Archive number: 1694
Preferred name: Moo
Date interviewed: 29 March, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Could we hear about your early life, where you were born, where you grew up, a bit about your family?
I was born in Perth, actually, and taken back to a little timber milling town called Barragup.
There really wasn’t much there. My Mum and Dad had made a pact with themselves, when they married, that they would feed their children properly. If they couldn’t buy furniture, they would buy food. They have always been fed well. Most of it was home grown. My Dad was a reject from World War I because he wore glasses, and he I think felt that he
hadn’t done his bit. I’m sure he was a very compassionate man and helped a lot of people, and so did my mother. My mother was a farm girl. I think she had a hard life, but she said, “No, because I had you children, and all these lovely friends around.” Hers is a story again that would take too long to tell. But I’m quite sure
a lot of my values came from her, and perhaps my father, too. Although I haven’t given him, in my own mind, credit for that. In his teens, he taught himself how to be a photographer by reading the instructions out of a book, and he taught my mother. She actually turned out to be a better photographer than he was. We had
four family heroes in my growing up years. One was Lawrence of Arabia [British soldier famous for his close relationship with the Arabs during World War I], the other one was Sir Charles Kingsford Smith [pioneer aviator], and I guess that’s where the interest in the air force came. The other one was Donald Bradman [cricketer], and the other one was Frank Hurley, who was the photographer with the Shackleton [Antarctic] expedition. She so admired the material that he sent back that
I think we all absorbed her values by osmosis. And the kids around us – we were a pretty rowdy family. We were allowed to do almost as we liked because the few rules we had had to be obeyed, and the others they didn’t worry about. They cared more about us being safe and well fed and, to be honest, I must admit that
I wavered on that a bit, as probably all kids do. We didn’t always tell the truth. It just depended on how much trouble it caused. I had lots of children to play with and we wandered in and out of the homes as though they were our own homes, as the teenagers today seem to do. My Dad was actually born
in Canada and came to Australia on the land share, early in December 1894, and his people settled in Perth.
My father started work, I think, as a sales assistant in what was then Bowens shop in Perth. He had eyesight trouble, so I don’t know whether he got the sack, but my cousin tells me he used to hold things so close to his eyes that it was rather embarrassing for the customers. So then he had a wood yard.
But he went broke with that because he gave too much away to people who really couldn’t afford it. So then he found his way down to the south west of WA [Western Australia]. He did a lot of things. I think he told fibs, too, like he could be a butcher. So he started off being a butcher. And then he got to be manager of the Carrington company stores, so that was his career path from then on.
My mother was also a mother, a housewife, a photographer… We owned a car, which was pretty rare for those times, so she was also the local ambulance. People would come in the middle of the night and rap on the window and say, “May? June’s time has come.” So everybody out, and take her up to the local hospital. We were lucky to have a hospital with a doctor in it and professional staff.
But that was because of the mill, and there were a lot of accidents out in the bush, with trees and limbs falling on men, and accidents in the mill with those big saws that they had. They were my growing-up years. I really was good at school. I was top of the class almost right throughout my school days, but I think a lot of that
was because my mother considered I was too tiny to start school at five and a half, so she kept me back until I was six and a half. Because she knew that would be no disadvantage, because she didn’t start school until she was nine years old because there wasn’t a school near the farm on which she lived. And she just shot up as though she hadn’t missed any school.
She was a rather daring girl, and courageous inasmuch as she could ride a horse and they recklessly chased kangaroos. We used to love to say to Mum, “Tell us about when you were young, Mum. What did you do?” And one thing that she and her sister Hazel used to do, they used to capture a big centipede and a tarantula spider and put them in a jar and make them fight.
See who won. And of course, the centipede always won. And because of that, and I suppose because of what she told us, my sister Millie and I used to catch those praying mantis things, put them in a glass and then put a fly in there, just to watch this praying mantis eat that fly like an apple. But she was also very good
at drawing. When my sister and I were small she would tell us stories and draw pictures of flowers and paint them and give them to us. And my Dad in the store, he used to get little dolls like that that came from Germany, little porcelain dolls, and we’d often wake up in the morning and find one of those little dolls pinned to the wallpaper. So I think Millie and I were really very spoiled
in all sorts of ways. My people were not rich, but they were certainly very rich in giving of their time and effort. I can also remember one thing with Dad. At night I had some homework to do, and this must have been in the babies. And I’m sitting there saying, “Fa to er, fat her, fa to a er, fat her.”
And he said, “What are you saying?” He said, “That’s ‘father’.” I said, “Oh, is it?” So, he got us on the right track. And apparently I used to write all over the place. He said, “You’ve got to write right along the lines.” The school teacher didn’t tell us that, but they kept an eye on us like that.
So this was just a small country school that you attended?
You couldn’t go on to secondary school. The headmaster used to teach that. If you wanted to stay there and do that, he would teach it. When the war broke out, the teachers then gave of their time to teach the young boys geometry and math so they could qualify for what they wanted to do. The postmaster taught Morse code, so the kids could do that.
Girls and boys were doing that. So everyone was doing something. It touched everyone in that little community. It was an end of the line little town. The train used to come in twice a week – Monday night and Thursday night – so we’d get a whole batch of papers. The West Australian, which was a daily paper, the Western Mail, which was a weekly paper. We were allowed to have
one comic each, and Mum used to get the Australian Photographic Review. I especially used to devour all that and discuss it with my mother. And I suppose that’s where this idolisation with Sir Charles Kingsford Smith came into that, because we thought he was just so brave to do that.
Can you tell us more about your mum’s love of photography?
What sort of subjects would she photograph?
She used to develop films. I had a little box camera, which was size a hundred and sixteen. My sister had one, too, and hers was a hundred and twenty. She had a large catchment area for doing developing and printing. And she’d have colour things if people wanted it. And I and my sister would help her because there was a lot of washing
going on in all this. She’d charge one and six to develop a film, and she’d do this forever and then hang it up on a little ledge she had. And she’d charge sixpence a print. And if you wanted colour, that was another extra shilling or something. So she did that, besides having babies. She could make bread.
If she thought the local baker wasn’t doing a good job, she would bake her own bread. Because we didn’t have electricity, she cooked on a wood stove as did all people on the mill site. The town site was about a mile and a half away, the school was there, and they had electricity. So we had those lovely, soft Aladdin lamps, which were beautiful.
So she was always doing that. She would do portraits of people if they wanted that done. She had her own background, which was a beautiful thing. With leaves and things all over it. She’d put that up across the front door. The house had a veranda on it. She’d put that up against the front door and she would do her portraits of a morning so she could get that soft
morning light. As kids we were all around, we were watching all this going on, too. She was very patient with the people she was taking. One little girl and her brother were being photographed one day and Mum just couldn’t get the style that she wanted from these two children. The mother said, “Don’t worry, May. We’ll come another day.”
Mum said something in her said, “No, I’ve to get this child now.” Which she did, even though the little girl wasn’t smiling. But that little girl died two days later with bronchial asthma. Something told her that she must get that portrait. And she was also the police photographer. So she would get called out. There were a couple of murders that I can remember, and she had to go out there and
photograph the body. Those sort of things. Those negatives belonged to the police then. She couldn’t keep those, and nor could she keep a copy of it. And when war broke out, I think it was early in 1940, she had to go and photograph all the so-called ‘enemy aliens’. And they were people that we had grown up with, and I had gone to school with the kids.
I can remember her coming home and saying, “God, I had to take Nembermann’s photo today. I’ve known him for ever.” She said, “I had to apologise to him and say ‘I’m so sorry, Mr Nembermann, I have to do this.’ And he said ‘Never mind Mrs Hodgkin, I know that you have to do it.’” I don’t know, in some sort of remote way we were touched by what was happening early in
the war years, even though nothing much was happening.
What happened to those people? Were they interned?
Yes, they were. Until the end of the war. I think because most of them were farmers, later on when the war got further away from us, and it was the Japanese that we were mainly fighting, and there were no Japanese there. There were no Asians there. There was only one Aboriginal in that
little town, and because he wore white sandshoes, everyone called him ‘Old Peter’. He was a quiet old man. I don’t know how he got to be there. Because it was a little town, everyone was absorbed into it, even though they have been a bit funny intellectually. Mum said, “You are not to tease that boy. You must be nice to him, but don’t tease him.”
We never even knew why, but we thought, “There must be a reason.” If Mum said, “Don’t do it,” we wouldn’t do it. But some of the kids did. The local boy Mafia did these things. There’s always a string of boys that would misbehave.
So you mentioned Millie. How many kids were there in the family?
Well, I was born in 1922, 4th of July, 1922. My sister Mildred, who we called Millie, was born a year and eleven months later. I’m working from there. My brother Graham was born in 1928. My sister June, who I just adored and still do,
was born in 1932. And my youngest brother was born in 1937. I was fifteen when he was born. But I really got a bad time at school about that. One of the girls that I was quite friendly with said, “I think it’s disgusting that your mother is having another baby at that age. You’d think they’d know better, wouldn’t you?”
So, I suppose I thought they should have asked me, too, because being the eldest in the family you do have to give help. Both Millie and I had jobs to do, but helping with this baby that I thought that they shouldn’t have had anyway and how could they afford another child anyway, but I know that it was wanted. Mum had told me that she hadn’t really expected Millie, and she hadn’t expected Jean.
So whatever system they were using worked to some degree. And as far as I know, there were no miscarriages and there were no backyard abortions. As far as my mother was concerned, it did happen. And because all the kids sat in on all these conversations that adults do, we didn’t know what it was about but we knew that it was something hush-hush. It was good to know about it,
but what did it all mean? Judgment was passed by the adults on somebody who had done something that the rest of the community didn’t agree with, but nevertheless they would still come in behind that person and help them. So there was a lovely community spirit there. Everyone helped everyone else. I don’t know how that affected me. I know about the honesty bit. I know that affected me.
But I think my mother was a big influence on me because I felt that she could do anything. I didn’t always agree with what she said, but I knew that she thought about it, and she really wanted me to get the best that I could get. The headmaster had told her that he would like me to sit
for a scholarship that would take me through secondary school, but that was in Bunbury, which was a long way from us. And the scholarship only covered school fees. It didn’t cover board and keep and uniforms. My youngest brother wasn’t born then. There wasn’t enough money to cover that, and I didn’t want to be a schoolteacher anyway. I wanted desperately to be a dressmaker.
I think that Mum felt that I would be good at that because Millie and I had a dolls house and it was made in those old pine boxes that a piano used to come in. So we had these kerosene boxes one on top of the other and we’d put our dolls into it. And we made our dolls into families, and each family had two kerosene boxes
which we had lined with wallpaper. We made the furniture out of matchboxes. The cushions were those lovely striped boiled lollies that you could get then. And if we got a boy doll, we would marry him off to someone else and we would have a wedding. So Mum knew that each doll
was going to have a new dress. It was going to be danced around. And I think our treadle sewing machine, which she would then stack these little drawers with beads and bits of stuff which I would get then, and I made all the clothes for the dolls for these dances and weddings and whatever it was that we had. My brother Graham, who was six years younger than me,
he used to hang around and he would say, “Can I dance a doll, too?” “Oh yes, as long as you behave yourself, you can dance a doll, too.” And he still remembers all that. And we had bits of stiff cardboard underneath two kerosene boxes and they were verandas, so we had lounge furniture and stuff out there for the dolls to sit on.
My Dad had his broadcasters up on top of the dolls house because he used to make little crystal radios. He taught himself that, so he could do all that, too. But somehow or the other he dropped these books on this veranda and we’d hear him say, “These bloody verandas.” And we’d rush in there and we would know that he had upset everything. So Millie and I would berate him very loudly
for upsetting our dolls house. But that all withered on the vine. I must have been about twelve and my younger sister Jean, who would have been crawling at that stage, had got in there and pulled everything out of the bottom house. So when I came home there was all this stuff
all over the floor. Mum said, “Sorry Muriel, I wasn’t watching what she was doing.” And I thought to myself, “Yes, why aren’t I worried about this? Why isn’t this worrying me as it used to?” And I said to myself, “Because you’re growing up, Muriel. You’re growing out of dolls now. You’ve got another phase that is going to come into your life.” But I didn’t know what it was. But I
have done that all my life, analysed my feelings as to why I felt like that. And why did I do things. It takes me quite a while to make up my mind to do something, but when I do, I go and do it. That’s it. I’ve always realised that there is always more than one answer to any question. There is probably four or five,
and you just make a decision at that time with the knowledge that you know then and you stick with it. And I think I did that with Bill, when he had the stroke and I made up my mind then that I would have to stay with him. I didn’t have to, but I would stay with him and find out how I could cope. After he died and I was shredding all this stuff that
was applicable to him, he had a file like that. I thought, “How did you do all that? Writing letters, typing letters here, typing letters to someone else.” And really just getting the best that I could for him because there wasn’t that much available for him. You really had to do it all yourself. When both my boys, the youngest one got married first, Kingsley, and
then Ross left home that same year. Although he and Mary Ellen, I loved both of them dearly, they decided they would just wait until the end of that year before he went to live with her because they realised that two leaving home in the same year would be too much. But I did have a very bad reaction to all that because I felt that I had been left with this enormous problem.
And I just felt that I didn’t have the physical capacity to cope with that. Then I had this talk with myself again and I thought, “Just take it one day at a time and do the best you can.” I actually had a lot of counselling by a therapist and the doctors and nurses and OTs [occupational therapists] while
he was doing that rehab [rehabilitation] session and I found that a big help because they told me what they were trying to achieve and how I was to support them. And as he was such a very determined person, very self-reliant and determined person, I found one of the best ways to treat him was if I had to go somewhere I would leave all the breakfast dishes in
the kitchen and when I came back he would have tidied it all up because he was a very tidy person. And I thought, “Ah, this is the way that I go with him. I don’t give him too many decisions. Just give him one or two things to choose between.” And if I thought it was going to upset him, I just wouldn’t tell. But with him, there had to be a complete role reversal over night. He lost his speech; he lost some of his upper faculties,
and who knows what they are unless you’re living with that person. That’s just how I coped with that. I wouldn’t like to do it again. I have friends who are going through almost the same situation and I think, having wended my way through all these various departments, especially [Department of] Veterans’ Affairs and
various other people… My eldest son said, “Mum, just get whatever help you can get and get your priorities right.” Which I had to do. We had to be fed; the bills had to be paid. It didn’t matter of whether the floors had to be vacuumed or not. I just gave myself these three or four priorities that had to be done. So I don’t know…
You don’t know what makes your personality. Whether it’s hereditary or whether it’s environmental. I know a lot of it I can trace back to my own mother. I talk to her now. I say… It factors in our reading. All my reading has been fact. I get a book now and I think, “Oh gee, Mum. You would love this book.”
And I go on reading with it. Even though she died in 1987, she’s still with me and she’s still part of my life. More so than Bill, my husband. Because I think I was smarter than he was, even though I allowed him to be head of the family. I certainly didn’t agree with a lot of the things he did, but… We were married
in 1947 and he died three years ago, this October. So I don’t know what allowed me to do these things. I often think about it and then I think, “Just forget it, Muriel. Rule a line under it and go forward.” So that’s where I’m at right now.
You started talking about this relation to when you were just a girl and you realised that
you were through that phase with the dolls and there was a change happening. What became your new interest at that point?
Books, always. I don’t think there was anything directly… Because I was smart at school. I think that knowledge gets around into the community.
The manager of the mill office asked Mum, “When Muriel leaves school, can she come and work here?” And that frightened the daylights out of me! Because it was a mill they were working in lineal measurements, which I figured that I didn’t know. I knew that I wasn’t really good at math. The postmaster wanted me to go into the post office as a
training telegraphist, or whatever. And in the meantime, Mum had said to me, “What we’ll do is we’ll send you to Perth to the Stanley School of Dress Cutting and Design.” And I thought, “Oh yes, that sounds good. Go to Perth for twelve months.” So that was what I thought would be my future. And Perth – to me, that was El Dorado.
That was where the stuff was that you could learn. I went to dancing classes with my friend, modern dancing classes, and that I got a lot of enjoyment from because that tied in with dressmaking, with the long dresses and whatever. And I stayed at a boarding house in West Perth,
which was within walking distance of the city. And that was owned by a family that used to live in Nannup all right. So there was this friendship connection with people. My mother felt that I would be looked after, I would be protected, I would be well fed, which I was. The two girls that were my friends then, one worked in West Australian newspapers
and the other one worked at somewhere else, which I’ve forgotten, but we would go to the movies and they would say, “See that evening dress? I want you to make me one like that. Remember it so that you can do the pattern for it.” So that was what we were doing with this course. And I found out when I did the intelligence test for the air force, one section I found just so terribly easy. It was just fitting broken up
bits together and what design did that make? And I found I could do that very quickly. I couldn’t see the point in it, but I thought, “All right, it’s here, so I’ve got to do it.” And they told me afterwards that my sense of design was ninety-eight percent. So I think that has come through in all sorts of things. I can walk into a room and take in almost a lot of detail that a lot of other people don’t see.
I know I’m no great scholar or whatever, but I’ve had a lot of satisfaction from reading. That’s my number one hobby, that I read fact. I did go through a stage in my teens when I read Georgette Heyer and I thought, “It would be lovely to be like that. Wear those Victorian dresses and da de dah.”
Then I read whodunits [detective stories]. I would get so involved in all that, that if anybody shut a door I would leap right off the bed. I was just so engrossed in it. But living in Nannup, there was a man there called Mr Deneuve and he had the newsagency. We knew that he was French, but we didn’t know why he was in that little town. But you didn’t ask questions because
it really was a multicultural town then. There were people from Yugoslavia and Greece and Italy working out in the bush as sleeper cutters. Which was a very hard job. They were doing it by hand, with that tough jarrah wood. Mr Deneuve…
And he had a beautiful library out the back and he would only lend those books to people that he trusted. So Mum was one of the people that was allowed access to that library and, as a consequence, I was too because he knew that we would look after the books. He had a display cabinet across the top of his counter that was full of lollies,
that were so much a penny. So if you had a penny to spend, or threepence to spend, we would stand there forever picking out what we would have. And he would just stand there and he wouldn’t say anything. He would just let us do that. And when war broke out and all these young boys that he knew… He wasn’t a paedophile and he wasn’t anything like that because the parents would have known about that immediately. So all these young teenage boys would
troop in and out of his shop and he would lend these beautiful books to them and I guess advise them or whatever. He was a fitness addict, a bit like old Percy Cerutty [famous athletics trainer]. He would go and swim in that icy cold river every morning, do his own cooking and help in the community, so that when the war broke out and all these young boys left to join up, he would be down the train with a parcel
of books and comics and a big bag of sweets for everyone that went. And when the girls started to go, he did the same for us. So everyone expected Mr Deneuve or ‘Old Bomb’ as we used to call him… He used to go to all the funerals. The funerals in Nannup were a social occasion. All the young boys would go there to see how deep the hole was and to look in it.
We would all be there, just to see what was going on. It was a social event, actually. So even death was brought into the community…Mr Wittle was the coffin maker and they lived in a house on the side of the hill. One side was level with the hill and the other side was up on high poles,
so he would make his coffins underneath. So the boys would go up to see: “Wittle will be making a coffin today.” So they’d be there, giving advice. Mr Wittle would talk to them. So everybody was involved with other kids, too.
It’s a bit like Huckleberry Finn. But as I grew older, I wanted to get away from Nannup. I wanted to learn things. What I wanted wasn’t there. So when the war broke out I knew that we would all be involved somehow. I knew that I was going to be in that, but I didn’t know how. When we heard Menzies announce that, “As a result, we are at war too,” my mother started to cry
and she said, “Oh my God, not again.” And she looked at Millie and I and she said, “I’m so glad you’re girls and not boys.” I’m sitting there thinking, “I’m going. I don’t know how, but I’m going.” So when recruiting was open, the WAAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force]… That started in March 1941 and they originally took in wireless telegraphists to replace
the men so that they could go north. So a lot of the girls that joined the air force were already trained. I had applied to join in September or October 1941 as a fabric worker because that sounded as though I could do that. I didn’t have very much information on it. A letter came back saying that they were no longer
recruiting for the WAAAF and they weren’t taking any more fabric workers. So to me that sounded like the end of the world. Because Dad was manager of this big co-op store and Millie and I used to go over on Saturday mornings and do all the dirty jobs, like picking the eyes off potatoes and weighing up sugar… It came in a bag, so we would weigh that all up and do all those sort of rotten jobs
that no-one else wanted to do. I thought, “I’ll work in the store for a while, then I can say that I’ve had experience as a stores hand.” I thought I’d join as that. Everything else sounded so pretentious, I thought, “I wouldn’t be able to do that.” We just did not have enough information. I could have joined as a lot of other things because of helping Mum with the photography, I could have joined that. But I thought,
“Gee, I don’t know everything about that.” I just felt that you had to be a real ace at whatever you had decided to do. So I applied as a stores hand, so then when the call-up message came, that said I had to present at Western Areas Headquarters at a certain time for the medical examination and the intelligence tests…which didn’t worry me.
But the medical did because I had never had to strip to the waist in front of a male doctor, ever before. So my pulse was going at about a hundred and ten, I think. And he said, “Are you always like this?” I said, “No, no. I’m just nervous.” He said, “Go lie down for a while.” But then I don’t think that helped anyway. I was just so afraid they wouldn’t pass me. So, on that day
I ran into the education officer there and he had been a schoolmaster at one of the outlying schools of Nannup. I don’t know what he had done in his life to deserve that because he was a Bachelor of Science…
Interviewee: Muriel Horsfall Archive ID 1694 Tape 02
You did the dressmaking course. How old were you when you did that?
That was pre war. That was 1938. Then I went back to Nannup. I was seventeen when the war
broke out. July 1939 I was seventeen, and in September the war broke out. I wasn’t the first girl to join the services. Another girl called Jo Coleman; she was the first to join them. She joined as a stewardess. Most of us, we didn’t have enough knowledge.
And I think that’s even present today because I had friend ring me over the weekend and she hadn’t heard anything about this. They have regular monthly meetings with the different sections of the WAAAF. So the women have kept it touch. They have newsletters and we ring and write privately to one another. But she said, “I’m sure we haven’t heard anything about what
you’re going to do on Monday.” I said, “I don’t think it’s anything special. I’m not all that special. I think anyone can get in touch.” When I did go to Mount Lawley I was stores, and there wasn’t much of a store there. But I wasn’t in the control room where
all the action was taking place. That was like; if you’ve ever watched that movie The Battle of Britain and you see them pushing markers around and telling the pilots what to do. That’s what it was like in Mount Lawley.
You said it was a big deal for you to go Perth, which is where it was happening. What was that experience like?
We had been there.
Mum and Dad used to visit Perth, probably every three or four years, because his father lived in Perth. So we would go and stay with Grandpa Hodgkins. Even as a little kid that was Perth to me. I just love the lights and the trams. Grandpa would give up the main bedroom to us. There was a big double bed in there.
So Mum and Dad and Millie and I slept in this big bed and he had a lovely little Victorian light shade over the electric light. To me, that was real civilisation. “Why can’t Nannup be like that? I want to get here. When I grow up, that’s what I’m going to do.” So I wasn’t at all homesick and it didn’t worry me at all. So
those sorts of new experiences, I found they didn’t bother me. I adjusted very quickly to it. But then I was still surrounded by relatives who would report back to Mum and Dad if they knew I was misbehaving, but I wasn’t. So I just loved it all. And because of the dancing, I loved that, too.
They had a beautiful Embassy ballroom there that had a beautiful sprung jarrah floor. It was just a beautiful place to dance. Most of the young people in Perth used to go to dancing classes, so we all learnt to dance properly. And you get very thingy about that. If someone asked you to dance and they can’t dance, “I’m wasting my time here.”
So those attractions just appealed to me. And I wanted to live in a house with all the mod cons [modern conveniences], too. With a toilet that flushed. Just turn on the lights. A sink in the kitchen. A stove other than a wood stove. I thought that the way we were living in Nannup was real Ma and Pa Kettle stuff.
And inwardly I blamed my father for that because I thought that he could easily give up that job and get another one in Perth like that: “Why doesn’t he do it? Why can’t he see that there is more opportunity here than staying there?” That was probably part of my character that I’m not proud of, but I don’t mind admitting it because that’s the negative side of me.
I know I’ve got a negative and positive side. And I do now like to surround myself with positive, optimistic people. I feel that I’ve arrived at this stage in my life and how do I know how many more years or days I’ve got? I’m not going to muddy the field with people with negative thoughts because they take your energy.
I don’t know where that comes from. Whether that’s hereditary or environmental. I haven’t worked that at. I just know that all the friends I have now are all ladies who are out-and-abouters. And a lot of them are professional people. And that’s what in this Probus Club that I’m in and I enjoy that immensely. But whatever club that I’ve been in, I’ve always taken
some sort of office. I’ve been secretary or on the committee, anyway because I like to get involved. And I just found that my married life, I moved around quite a bit and I found the way to satisfaction for me was to join clubs. Because a lot of other women have their closed friendship club
and they don’t want to let you in. So I found that the easiest way to acclimatise was to join a club. So that’s just part of what I’ve done. When my kids went to school, I followed them through school life and been on mums’ committees and baked sponges and all that sort of thing and helped them with the homework.
My husband was away a lot, so it was my job to supervise the homework, to help and also to be the bad guy, dish out punishment because I considered that if they misbehaved, it had to be done right there and then, not say, “Wait until your father comes home Saturday night.” So that was not part of my character, either. So all in all,
I really don’t know what’s made me who and what I am. I just feel that if I know the reason for anything, I can cope with it. So I always look for why this has happened. I have a daily goal which I like to achieve, but I make it an achievable goal, so I don’t think, “Today I will run into Melbourne and back again.”
I make it an achievable goal and that gives me a lot of satisfaction. And I think that that has helped me through looking after Bill and the heart attack that I had. I sort of feel now that I am floating free; I can do as I like. I’m nobody’s daughter and I’m nobody’s wife. I’m still a mother, but someone else has taken my place
in my sons’ lives. We are a strong family and that’s been part of my growing up, to have a strong family background. I appreciate that immensely. I’m just lucky to have two lovely girls as my daughters-in-law and I’m very proud of them. I’m very happy to have them. I love my sons to bits. Becoming a mother was
something. I didn’t realise what it entailed. When my first child, Ross, was brought into me and I looked at him, I thought, “I’m a mother.”
I’ll take you back again. We were talking about the fact that you had some independence,
but you were still under the watchful gaze of your family there, but it sounds like it was still quite an experience for you, the dances and so on?
I find that ballroom dances give you a lot of confidence. Here again, I don’t know where… I’m a fairly quiet person, I think. But underneath all that, I can be very tenacious.
I can cope with things. I know that I don’t have huge amounts of energy, but various people have told me that I’m very strong mentally. So whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But I’m not really afraid of doing anything. If someone said to me, “Would you like to
go on a rocket to the moon?” I would probably say, “Yes.” I just like new experiences and puzzles and things like that, don’t bother me. I love working out crossword puzzles and that’s been something I’ve done all my life, too. But I think it does get back to having a firm base, which I did have
in my childhood and I really did in my marriage because my husband was a very fastidious person in dress and the way he went about his job. The day’s work would be finished by the end of the day. And everything was nice and tidy. And I know that comes from his mother. They were a very tidy family. More so than our family.
Our family was very outgoing and welcoming new people and… We’d go to a party rather than wash up the dishes or something like that. The important part of dinner at night in our family was to sit and talk about what happened during the day and then do the dishes. Some people don’t do that. They get up, the dishes have to be done straight away.
But that wasn’t part of my upbringing. So I think that came from my mother. So, yes…
When did boyfriends enter the scene?
I was always interested in boys. That was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Perth, so I could have a boyfriend without my father
saying, “You be in by ten o’clock.” I know my mother trusted me, but I didn’t have any sexual advice like the kids have now. I knew where babies came from, but I really didn’t know how it all happened, or how you got up to that stage. My mother used to say, “For God’s sake, Muriel, don’t ever get yourself pregnant, or your father will
kill the person.” I knew that if I had got pregnant I wouldn’t have been kicked out of the home as a lot of young people were in those days because my father blamed the man, not the girl. But I didn’t want to be getting pregnant and having babies either because that looked like a lot of hard work to me. And living in the country, as we did, there was no chemist there, there was no dentist. And it seemed to me that once women got married and
started having two or three babies, they lost their teeth because the only dental treatment was from the doctor and he would just pull out teeth and that’s all. It looked to me like a pretty grim scenario. I wasn’t all that keen about the marriage bit. So somehow or other, I knew that that was attached to boys, but I wasn’t quite sure how it all fitted in.
I didn’t learn about that until I joined the air force actually. But there wasn’t much sexual advice there, either. All they told us was, “Just don’t do it. Save yourself for your husband.” We were terribly interested in sex. I remember at Mount Lawley, one of the telephonists was an English girl. I’ll say her name was Lorna, but it wasn’t. Someone said, “Lorna’s had sex!
So we’ll go down and ask her.” “What was it like?” And she said, “Not much.” And also in the air force if you got pregnant, you were put out straight away, so there was no follow up treatment or whatever. So to me, boys were equated with a million babies. Holding hands certainly and
have a nice relationship, but it was more like… Not like these days, it was nothing below the waist. It was just kissing and cuddling and whatever. The boys also knew, that was part of the do. If a boy got a girl pregnant in my Nannup days, they had to contribute towards
the upbringing of that child until that child was sixteen, which was a bit of a drag for guys who were only on a pound a week or something, working from dawn until dusk. So it was all a bit of a grey area, this business. And when we had our medical examinations for the air force, there was no internal examination. They just pushed around on your stomach. And this was
something that the American servicemen apparently thought, that all Australian service girls, too, had been tested for sexual diseases. So, if you wanted a good sexual partner, find a girl from the services. But it wasn’t like that at all. My granddaughter said to me at one stage, “I would have liked to have lived in your days, grandma.” I said, “What for?” She said, “I think the men were nicer.”
I said, “They were only nicer because they had to be. If the conditions these days existed then they would have been right in on all that, too.” So that’s another area that I laugh about.
It seems, yeah, one’s modesty was extremely important. Obviously you’re fundamentally no different from anyone today, it’s just the culture of the times…
I think for the men probably in my day it was
more difficult inasmuch as they were buying a pig in the poke because there was very little sexual experience. Say in my own situation, I didn’t have sex until I was married. So your prospective husband doesn’t know what you’re going to be like and you don’t really know either.
We didn’t have an effective contraceptive program to follow. It was more word of mouth., “What do you do?” and, “What do you do?” And people sort of got married and had two kids before they were even game to ask anybody what to do. I said to Bill, “If you ever hit me, I will get up and walk out.” And he said, “What sort of animal do you think I am?”
I said, “Well, I don’t know. That’s why I’m telling you now.” I probably wouldn’t have done it. But that was the sort of experience of marriage I had in the Nannup area. It wasn’t… They weren’t good role models because men did hit women. You would see a woman with a black eye and you’d think, “What happened to her?” Mum would say, “Well, somebody came home drunk that night and beat Hazel up.”
And that’s why I thought, “This marriage business doesn’t sound like a good deal to me.” So that was one thing, too, that kept me on the straight and level. And also the fact that you would be leaving the air force immediately if you got pregnant. So I really learned from what Mum used to say, “For God’s sake, don’t get yourself pregnant.” My mind did rule my actions and I was
able to stick to it. When I joined up, I promised myself that I would not get engaged or married while the war was on and I wouldn’t knowingly go out with a married man. And I did stick to that. And also there was this other notion in my mind that I was going to play the field and I was going to go out with whoever interested me. It was possible
to have three boys going at once. One station romance and one who’d come down through the week and another who would just come in on the weekend. It was easy to do that. They weren’t actually boyfriends. They were actually boys who were friends, that’s all. I think the boys would have liked a bit of sex, but they knew there were certain restrictions attached to it. And the Americans, then, they were different.
They brought in a different level of excitement. And the one I was going out with was absolutely a perfect gentleman. So he, more or less, was like the Australian boys that I had gone out with. He was a Catholic, so he believed in whatever they believe in. He thought that because I didn’t go to church, that I could pick and choose what religion I would be. I said
“Well, I’m Protestant. And that’s the difference.” And it did make a big difference in my day. So I think the fact that I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to get engaged or married, that kept me on that level, too. As soon as the boys started to get serious, I thought, “That’s the end of it.” I know I was skiting at one of the WAAAF reunions I went to and said I’d had six proposals of marriage
while I was in the air force and she said, “Well, who didn’t?” So that brought me down to earth. I thought, “Well, it’s not just you, Muriel. It’s anybody.” I was just dancing with a guy at one of the canteen dances and he just stopped and he said, “Will you marry me?” And I said, “Well, no. Why would you ask that?” There was a joke going around with all the women at that time, not just
service people, a man would say that to you and you would say, “You just down from Darwin or something?” Starved as they were for women’s company, actually. For me it was a vast experience, inasmuch as my three and a half years in the air force were really equated in civilian life to about ten because everything happened so quickly.
And I rather liked that pace. So when that stopped, all of a sudden, you really did feel sort of like sex without a climax. It was a bit like that. You think, “Well, everything’s a bit dull and drab.’
So why the air force? Why not the Land Army?
It wasn’t because of the uniform. It was because of
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and all this ongoing… Australia, at that stage, was very air conscious and there was not going to be anything else for me. I might have joined the navy. I would not have joined the army because honestly, we thought we were a cut above everybody else. That’s the girls – I don’t know about the boys. But
the boyfriend that I had, my country boyfriend, before I joined up, he had joined as a trainee wireless operator and I had talked him into that. Because when the war broke out, he was going with his two other friends to join the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]. I said to him, “Why would you do that?” He had been learning Morse code with the postmaster, he was in that class.
He was also in the geometry class with the headmaster of the school. And I said, “Well, why would do that? You can do this. Why don’t you join something where you’ve got less likelihood of being killed or maimed? And it would give you a further education.” So he thought about that and he joined as a training telegraphist and came over here.
So when I wrote to him and told him I was going to join the WAAAF, it was like starting World War III. Why would I want to do that? He didn’t want me to join the air force because those girls were groundsheets for the officers. Nice girls didn’t join the air force and dah de dah, all that. I said to Mum, “Well, I’m going to join.
Why would he react like that?” She said, “Because he thinks he’ll lose you, that’s why.” I thought, “Well, he’s lost me already because nobody is going to talk to me like that.” I had made up my mind and my mother sort of seconded me on that because she said, “If I was your age, I would join up, too. And I would join the air force, simply because of this Sir Charles Kingsford Smith stuff,”
and all that air race, from England to Australia stuff. So I suppose because it was my habit and my mother’s habit, to read the newspaper and discuss it, in the absence of other books that I might have read. I was just dying to join it. I didn’t know what it entailed. The first week in, camping at Victor Harbour, I wondered why I had.
That was one of the worst experiences of my life. It was so cold. And we had all these needles pumped into us. You’re on the go the whole time. I thought, “My goodness, what have I done?” My sister Millie said, “Well, you go and if you like it I’ll join up, but if don’t, I won’t.” So at the end of the first week I thought, “Well, what am I going to tell Millie? This is awful.”
And then the positive side came out of it, where you mix more with the girls. You’re a bit more settled and you knew the routine and your body had adjusted to getting up at six o’clock. I’m not a morning person and I never have been and that was really against the grain, but you just had to do it. It was really tough that first week. But I prided myself on the fact that I could do it.
And that the girls that were there, from the whole range of social strata for Australia and we were all in the same boat and we were all stripped of our make-up and our long hair. And then I thought, “This is really nice. I like her and I like her.” You just had to do everything so quickly.
You had to react very quickly. And I guess the authorities were told to train us as quickly as they can because we had to go into the air force and fill up all these spaces. They just did not have enough people to meet the war-time commitments. You knew why you were doing it. Some of those girls, the sense of humour of some of them,
I appreciated and we really just settled in very well. As I said, it was better than being raped by a Jap, even though we were sleeping on a bag filled with straw. All that was a bit of a culture shock. And going to the toilet without doors on and having a shower in front of everybody else. It just stripped away
all that nonsense, that’s all. And I didn’t really mind it at all. We even got through to personal hygiene, what you had to with sanitary pads and all these things. They were not to be flushed down the toilet because they would gum up the whole hot water system. We were lectured on that, I suppose, every three or four days because someone would always do that.
You’d think, “Why the hell can’t they do as they’re told? Why do they have to do that?” So I found that it was tough and yet it also yielded big dollops of satisfaction because you had done it and it was something that you had never done in your whole life before. It was confronting, but it was also very, very satisfying.
I think that what the authorities were afraid of was that all these virile young girls would get together with all these virile young trainee aircrew men and then what would happen. We were all dying to get to them and they were all dying to get to us. The only connection we had to them was at the dances at the end of the week, so we all looked forward to that. And the first dance
at Victor Harbour, we didn’t have our uniform. It was just bits and pieces of it, so we were allowed to wear civilian dress. And at that stage, they hadn’t caught up with all hair. Some of them had learned how to roll it over, over your collar. But I had had mine cut, so I thought I looked ghastly. No-one would dance with me. But some brave soul did.
A lot of West Australians were there. Most of the girls coming from WA would know how to dance and we had a reputation for being good looking. Everybody thought West Australian girls were nice looking. Even the American commander of the submarines wrote that into his diary, that many of the girls were attractive, mostly of the athletic type.
Most of us did play a lot of sport. And of course there were very few overweight girls in it because they had weeded those out, I guess. So the first dance I thought, “I’ll be lucky if I get a dance.” But somebody had decided, “Yes, she could dance,” so, “Would you save the next modern waltz for me?” That was the litmus test. I thought, “Okay.”
We were not allowed out of that ballroom. Once you got into that dance, you were not allowed out again except to go to the toilet. We were very strictly policed. There was this great fear, right through the war, that somehow or other the girls would get together with the boys and there would be a whole lot of trouble. And I think, from what I’ve read, there was more
attention to that over here on the eastern seaboard than on the western. There just didn’t seem to be that problem over there. I figured that if my father had signed the papers and my mother and father trusted me enough to do that, why wouldn’t everybody else trust us, too? They were actually minor things but they
were part of the ethos at that time. We were also given lots of lectures about how to behave in uniform. We were told on buses and trams that we had to stand up for a pregnant lady or an old person, whether they were female or male, or a disabled person. And most of us did that. We were forever being lectured on how to behave.
“If you want to let your hair down, do it in civilian clothes. Don’t do it in uniform and draw attention to yourself.” Those sort of things we took with a grain of salt. If that’s what they want us to do, well we’ll do it. It became second nature to you to do that. I don’t know about over here, but in Perth, the transport system towards the end of the war, I think it was held together with chewing gum and
rubber bands. The buses frequently broke down. The trams took forever to get from here to there. It was just part of the whole scene.
Can I just ask you how you found out about the WAAAF? And you showed us that wonderful poster from the era. Do you remember any of the advertisements from the time for the WAAAF?
They would have been from the papers. They would have been from
the first girl who did join up as a stewardess and her letters back home. They became sort of common gossip. Everybody knew about it. But I would have got my information from papers and the radio. We had a radio. That was also a bit of a luxury, too, at the time, but as I said my father had taught himself how to make crystal sets and he knew how to service the thing. It went on batteries,
but he knew how to service it and he sold a few sets around the town and serviced them also. He probably had more brains than I gave him credit for. But that’s how I heard about it. I didn’t see any of those posters because there was none of those around the town. And I think there may have been a recruiting drive through the town
at some stage, where various ones would have come and set up their fair in the local town hall and you could find out about the army, the navy or the air force, or the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] Nursing Service, or one of those. Most of the experience, I suppose, and the common knowledge was for the girls to do something in the medical side. To join as a VAD [Voluntary Aid Detachment] or whatever.
But that didn’t appeal to me. I thought, “I don’t want to do that. I want to have contact with all these gorgeous aircrew boys.” I was totally besotted by Australian aircrew. And I think, again, that goes back to the interest in Kingsford Smith.
(BREAK) I think it would have been discussed around the table. I would have said to my mother, “I’ll join the air force.” Somehow or other that information got through to us and I can’t really remember how. Probably through the papers because we got all those papers. We got the daily paper and the Western Mail and somewhere
there would be information in that. And from the radio. We listened to every news session that was on the radio. It’s just been part of my whole life. And it would have been… Mum probably would have found out something, too.
So when exactly did you sign up?
I was… What do they call it? Attested, or something? On my pay books over there, I think it was the 29th of June 1942.
And I’d had the medical exam and the intelligence test before that. So I had to report to Western Area some time during that day, and the train left for Victor Harbour that night. So I had a letter to say that I had to report to
Western Area Headquarters on a certain day and I would be going to a state that was cold, so to take warm clothing. We didn’t even think about South Australia. We thought we were going to Victoria. The train left in the morning, so I had to hastily pack everything. And the train left at eight o’clock in the morning and it took all day to get from Nannup to Perth, which is about a hundred and seventy miles.
A timber train. So they’d shunt off and get loads of timber… It just took all day. From eight to eight. Twelve hours. And there was very few cars going from Nannup to Perth because there was petrol restrictions at that time. So I just had to hurry up and pack my bag and be at the station that morning.
And when we got on the Overlander, or whatever it was, that night. There were six of us to a compartment. It was a civilian train so we were lucky – there were sleeping compartments on it and a dining car. But they put six in a carriage, so two had to sleep together or whatever. Because I was small and someone else was small, we had to double bunk with some of the others.
So it wasn’t a comfortable journey, but at least we felt we were on our way. We were doing something. So that was quite exciting. There were things that happened on the way over. Other girls had different experiences whereby they were on troop trains. They had to have a barbecue in the desert or something like that.
And coming home there were four to a compartment, so I had a sleeping berth on the way home, so I really was lucky. There would have been about sixty-four girls who went into Victor Harbour.
Can you tell us about the trip over? You said that it was quite an exciting adventure?
It stops at Kalgoorlie, it gets into Kalgoorlie overnight.
So you stay at Kalgoorlie almost all that day and night, and then you head off across the desert. At one stage, the guards came around and said, “Pull up all your windows. Lock the windows, lock the doors and don’t open them until I came back.” So we thought, “What’s all this about?” So then a troop train pulled up alongside us, full of Australian soldiers.
Now I say that because they were just so rowdy and some of them were trying to get out of their carriages into our carriages and whistling and saying rude things. And when that train had gone past, the guards came along and opened the doors and said, “Righto, that’s okay.” But there must have been some worry that they would do this.
I don’t know where they were from or where they were going, but they were certainly very rowdy about it all. And everything else was fairly regular to what they called Old Dee’s Soak, which is just over the border into South Australia. There was a stop there and a lot of poor Aborigines who looked very woebegone and dirty and selling us boomerangs.
Interviewee: Muriel Horsfall Archive ID 1694 Tape 03
So let’s pick up on the train trip to Victor Harbour. You were in Kalgoorlie…
We were at Old Dee’s Soak, which was an old Aboriginal reserve. So they descended on the train selling their artefacts. Everyone bought one, more out of sympathy than need. We asked how much they were, “Two shillin.”
Everything was, “Two shillin,” so I put mine in my case and so did the other girls and shortly after a nursing sister came choofing around, “Who bought stuff off the Aborigines?” “Well, we all did.” “Well, just throw them out of the window because they’re covered in germs,” and whatever. So we threw them out the window and hoped the Aborigines came along and recycled them to the next train.
So then there was no more drama until we got to Port Pirie. We were told that Victor Harbour wasn’t ready for us, so they would offload us to a nearby air force station, which didn’t have WAAAF on there at that stage. So that was my birthday, my twentieth birthday. So when we got to
the RAAF station there was all these young trainee men. I don’t know what they were training for, but because we were all in civilian clothes with long hair and perfume and everything, we were girls. They were stamping their feet and shouting out, “You’ll be sorry!” and wolf-whistling. That was my first introduction to a palliasse. I don’t know whether we had
to fill them or not. That was what you usually had to do. And sleep between those rough grey air force blankets. Use the toilets with no doors on it. Use the showers with no doors on it.
What had you brought with you, when you packed to go from Nannup?
Well, I put in a couple of skirts. They said to put in a good pair of walking shoes
because you’d be doing a lot of walking. I only had one pair that met that requirement. Cardigans and jumpers and blouses.
Had they told you? Had they given you some idea…?
Oh yes, they told us that we would not be issued
with bras, night attire, sanitary gear. We had to bring all that ourselves. Sanitary pads. Petticoats. None of that was issued. We would be given twenty-five clothing coupons to cover that. So it was really a bit of a mystery about
what you would take that would be practical. But because it was July and it was very cold in South Australia… They have the extremes – very hot summers and very cold winters. Whereas Nannup was a pretty cold place, too, but somehow or other we needed warmer clothes. I guess it was the type of buildings we were in.
They were only fibro and timber. They were not lined. And it was just freezing cold. And the next day we just got dressed in whatever it was we were wearing the day before and they said Victor Harbour was ready for us.
And I thought the journey from Adelaide to Victor Harbour was beautiful. All these gardens cascading down to almost the railway line. I’ve never been able to go back on that route because they took the trains off that route. Now they only run…not in summer because of the fire risk. And I have just not been able to get back onto that train, which I’ve wanted to do.
When we got to Victor Harbour it was late in the afternoon and that’s when the big surprise was sprung on us. We were all told to form up, get into lines, marched us from the station up to Mount Bracken, which overlooks Victor Harbour.
We were then allocated our place in the hut, “That’s your bed.” And it was a palliasse and four blankets. I have never been able to remember whether we had a pillow or not. And we were fed… I have always thought that
air force food was just atrocious because we were being supplied by the army. We were not allowed to eat better than the army. That was something that had been decided in parliament. The army people thought, “No way should the air force eat better than us.” They should all have the same food. So we had almost the Kokoda Track stuff. Bully beef [tinned meat] and all that rubbish.
The first morning we were in camp… The next morning we all got up, taking our time to have a shower, put on our dresses, made up faces and combed our hair, didn’t worry about the bed or anything else. All of a sudden the whistle blew and we were on breakfast parade. And this is where the air force story started. We were marched off to
breakfast. I had never seen such atrocious food in my whole life – even through the Depression, people ate better. They had all these dehydrated eggs, which turned up like yellow rubber. You had to make your own toast. Because we were new to the whole thing, we didn’t get it because everyone else was around the toaster. There was porridge. I didn’t like the look of that, so I threw everything in the rubbish bin,
as did most of them. Then it started after that. We started our service drilling or whatever, so by morning tea all our stomachs were rumbling like Vesuvius, so we descended onto the canteen, where they were offering ice-cream and biscuits. We’ve had breakfast and we’re out doing our drill.
But you’re still in your civvies [civilian clothes] though, aren’t you?
Yes. We got bits and pieces. We’d get a shirt, and because I was tiny, they didn’t have small clothes. They really weren’t geared up for mass introduction of women to the service,
so everything was a bit rough. The stockings were those horrible wild things. Bloomers Blue and Bloomers Drab. They had elastic around the waist and elastic around the bottom of the leg. So they weren’t really bloomers, they were
panties. And we found out if you threw the whole lot into the copper and boiled them up you’d get a real streaky thing that sort of became a cult thing. We all wanted Bloomers Blue and Bloomers Drab to look like something else. ‘Passion killers’ we used to call them. The shirt was about two sizes too big for me.
With each shirt there were two detachable collars that had to come on with studs. And a black tie, none of us knew how to tie a tie. It was terrible. We were issued then with what they called jeans, but were more like overalls. Pocket there and big deep
pockets on the side, which we used to stuff up with everything that we had in our pocket. Real glamour girls. No sunscreen in those days, so if it was a hot day you just got burnt and that was that. We had a hat, although they were berets so they really didn’t give any protection from the sun, which wasn’t really
much of a problem in South Australia at that time as it was in say northern Australia or WA where it gets to be over a hundred for days on end. And that’s apparently the story of those bush hats that we used to wear. They were issued for the men initially, but when the girls were getting so burnt they sort of threw out a hat and said, “Do what
you like with it.” So the girls pork-pied the top of it and we had some sort of a strap that kept it on. And we ended up loving those hats. We thought they were just the shot, especially for the hot climates. And that was just a sort of ad hoc thing that was added to the uniform, but we got to love them.
What about shoes?
I did get a pair of shoes later on. They were actually very good shoes, Raoul Merton, which were top of the range at that stage, with fittings and whatever. But they didn’t have my size in that either. They were too big and they were rubbing blisters
onto my heels. But they were better than my own civilian shoes. I had two or three pairs of white socks. Sandshoes, just those ordinary canvas shoes – they were for gym. I think it was mainly winter stuff that were issued with in Victor Harbour
because it had all been very hastily put together because when they stopped recruiting for the WAAAF, if they had kept that up, everything would have fitted in very nicely. Because it stopped and then started again later on, it cost a lot more money to set it up than if they just kept it flowing and had an organiser for all these women. They just didn’t realise what was going to happen.
Then the air force said, “We’ve got to have women in it. We’ve got to have people to do all the mundane jobs that women can do.”
So had they designed these uniforms especially for the WAAAFs coming in?
They did for the skirts, but I think a lot of the jackets were men’s clothes, too, because they all did up that way.
They were not well fitting. For me, everything was too big. So I was a bit of an odd man out. Most of the women, I think, were taller than me.
Did you alter your uniform to fit you?
I couldn’t. There were no sewing machines there. The only way you could alter them… We were issued with a thing
called a ‘hussy’, which was another contraption of housewives that had stuff in it – little pair of scissors and cotton and needles and pins… No, the job was too big and we didn’t have time to do that anyway. We just had to put up with it. When I left the Harbour [Victor Harbour] and I was posted back to WA, I did have a uniform and
I had two blue shirts that were too big and shoes… I didn’t get Bloomers Drab there until I got back to Perth. But when I got my posting at Perth, the first thing the WAAAF officer would do was look over your clothing card and send you off to 4 Stores in Perth to get the rest of the uniform that you didn’t have.
So were you allowed to wear your own knickers or did you have to…?
No, they didn’t lift up the skirt to see if you had on Bloomers Blue or Bloomers Drab. I wore my own civilian things until they fell to bits. Until I actually had to get into Bloomers Blue. Having discovered that if you threw them all in the copper they turned out something different. They were not Bloomers Blue, or Bloomers Drab, they were something.
And they became… Yeah, we’d wear the things. They were made of out of celonese [?]. A bit like those silk stockings. If you got a run in it, it ran right down and we’d mend that up, until they literally fell to bits. Because they were an A Class item, which meant they had to be accounted for always. You always had
to have a bit of it to change over for a new pair. And we discovered that you would have all these runs in these bloomers that we had mended. The only part that didn’t wear out was the gusset, which was double material. So we felt, well, maybe they won’t give us another pair because the gusset looks good. So we rolled them up and down on the bricks
so that it would look very rough. There is a story attached to that. I had been married quite a while and Bill was telling me about his friend, Flight Sergeant Lightfoot, who was in charge of stores at Geraldton. He said to Bill, “God, those WAAAFs must have strong body acid. You should see the gussets of their bloomers. They’re all worn out!” I said, “God, you two are flight sergeants
and you don’t know that much about women?” I said, “We used to rub them on the bricks to make sure they would be U/S [unserviceable].” I used to laugh about that. They thought they were men of the world and… So, they were a real talking point. But I threw mine out as soon as I left the air force. That was a bit of it
that I wasn’t all that keen on.
Were they cotton?
No they were celonese, like that rayon stuff. But they’d… As I said, they would run… But nobody else saw them except us anyway, or those girls who did know about condoms or whatever. I don’t know that
I had a friend who was indulging in sexual activity, but we didn’t talk about it all that much actually. The first week that I was at Victor Harbour, I know I menstruated that week and after all these needles and everything I didn’t menstruate for three months. And that used to happen to me whenever we had another dose of needles.
Back at Mount Lawley, one of the girls said, “You ought to go to the doctor and find out about this. It’s not right.” Another girl said – the doctor then was Dr Guy Hen – she said, “Don’t go to him, he makes you take all your clothes off when you’ve got a sore throat.” So whether that was true or not, I don’t know. But those sort of stories went around, so you found your own solution for things.
You were supplying your own pads?
We were issued with a packet of Modess at that stage. But if you needed any more you had to go up and tell a great big story about why you needed another packet because they were in such short supply. And yet the mechanics servicing planes used to use them for cleaning bits and pieces on the planes.
So they evidently had first priority. But just to rub it in a bit, I’m talking now about a big station like Pearce, where I was for a while, they’d wave these things, “Look, girls!” Ignore it all. I didn’t encounter any…
Yes. I didn’t encounter any of that at all. You were just accepted. If you did your job well, that was it, you were there. We became enmeshed in the whole system, so that at the end of the war when they shoved us all out as quickly as they could,
the authorities then found out just how much we had been part of the air force because they were short of clerks and medical assistants and everybody. And yet the air force still had a big job to do.
Let’s talk about Victor Harbour and the training and the set-up there. Were there men there as well?
Yes. It was 4 ITS, which was Initial Training School. So all the aircrew
went to it, then they sorted them out whether they were going to be pilots, air gunners or navigators. So I think they probably had a more intense course than we did. We still had to do the same drill as they would do. We also had to learn aircraft identification. We had to learn the rules of the air force and the history of them.
How to behave. We were taught then that when an officer came into the room, you had to stand up. That was just part of the protocol, so you had to do that. We had to learn that. We had to learn how to salute. They didn’t show us in the beginning, they just said, “From now on when you are paid, when you are on pay parade, when you are handed your money you must salute.” So everyone thought we were
going by the movies, that’s how you salute. When that was all over, they humiliated the whole lot of us by saying, “Never seen such terrible salutes in my whole life.” They showed us how to salute, it was so easy. Why didn’t they do that? They just wanted to make us assimilate in as short a time as possible, I suppose. But to me that seemed to be the theme that was running the whole thing.
Such as the first morning when we were there and we got up and we looked nice and the siren sounded about quarter to eight. And they said, “Who’s made their bed?” Nobody had made their bed, so we all got a roasting over that. We weren’t shown how to do it, so they humiliated you in that instance.
I was very resentful of that, too because it wouldn’t have taken them two minutes to show us how to do it. But they would rather do it this way, of humiliating you, by saying, “Well, no, you didn’t do it. This is what you have to do. And those who didn’t make their beds this morning have got to make six beds when you get back to camp.” So the next morning we were up and we showered and we got the bed made and we’d done our jobs. If you had time to do your face up,
you did. If you didn’t, well it just had to go. And I have to say that when the next lot came in, we did the same to them, too. We didn’t tell them what was going to happen. We rather relished that they would do the same as what we did and get a roasting over it. The first dress parade, we had been marching all around the place, everyone’s hot and flustered and sweaty.
“Righto, now go and get dressed up in your full uniform and be back here in ten minutes.” We hadn’t even been shown how to tie a tie, how to cope with those studs and take your whatever off that we had on and put on suspender belts so they would hold up these stockings. Suspender belts and step-ins, I think they were called.
They were all held together, too, with cotton or whatever elastic we could find. They belonged to us, so they were really a big mess. So to get to be in full uniform and be out in ten minutes… A lot of us weren’t out in ten minutes, so you got bawled out because you weren’t there on time. You had so much trouble with these studs and most of us didn’t have the tie tied
because we didn’t know how to do it. And we were rubbished by all how we presented for that, too.
So you would have helped each other with dressing?
Yes, yes. Somebody knew about studs, somebody could tie a tie. So, this is how you do it. But for the first dress parade we were a terribly raggedy lot, so we learned quickly.
Whether that was the purpose of it, for you to learn to do routine jobs very quickly, I don’t know. Or whether it was just part of getting you used to being in the service as opposed to being a civilian. I was twenty, so I’d had a bit of life experience. A lot of the girls were only eighteen and had been really cared for at home and probably not had to make their beds or whatever.
So for them it was a bit of a catastrophe because they were homesick, they didn’t feel well because of all these needles… Smallpox vaccinations… We really got the treatment in that first week. Now we’re talking about early July 1942, which I think was the beginning of
the fighting on the Kokoda Trail. It was also the beginning of the fighting in Bougainville, which was very horrific and horrible and men were dying and nobody really knew what was happening. We all felt that what was happening to us was really a small price to pay. And I think that that helped us to assimilate and accept
all these other women there, who might have been socialites of Perth, or whatever, country girls or whatever. That melded us into a force, I guess, and we learned what was expected of us, rather rudely.
Did you have male and female instructors?
For the drill we had a male.
No, they didn’t bawl us out the way you see in those American movies where they come and yell in your face and do all those sorts of things. They didn’t do that. They just, “Come on girls, shoulder height. Come on girls.” There was always one girl in every squad who couldn’t synchronise her feet with her hands.
And she’d have her left foot forward and her left hand going and there was always one of those in every squad. So we did a lot of marching. They also had a routine whereby… Say at the end of the first week, when we were all suffering from vaccinations and everybody felt pretty terrible, they’d take you on a five mile route march. But they’d say,
“Anybody who feels sick, just fall out and a truck will come along and pick you up later.” So I was determined… I felt terrible, but I was determined that I was not going to fall out. I would do that, however long it was. And I surprised myself by being able to do that. Halfway along we got to have a rest and this corporal said, “Those girls who smoke can smoke. Otherwise just sit down and have a rest.”
And one of the girls in that flight who had been around a bit more than the rest of us, she said, “Are we so terrible? Are we so dumb?” “No,” he said, “You girls are easy to train.” He said, “It’s easy to train you, you just pick it up quickly.” She said, “Well, why are we suffering like this then?” Everybody thinking they’re so dumb.
It really was a steep learning curve that first week. Then when we all got to find out how to do things, and we did learn quickly. I only needed to be told once or shown once and I think most of the other girls were like that, too. Because a lot of the girls were trained stenographers, they had been working as private secretaries and whatever. So we were all made to feel:
“Nobody is better than anybody else. So get that into your head pretty quickly.” And I guess that was the reason for it. But we were all too busy to sit down and come to that conclusion, actually. because it was just full on.
So what would a day consist of in a training period?
Getting up early. You could
get up whatever time you liked. They’d blow a hooter at the last minute that you had to be up. A lot of girls who were morning girls would be up quite early. But it was probably around about six or six thirty that you had to be up. Then we learned that we had to do ablution duties. “What the hell’s an ablution?” It’s a shower and a wash cloth… It was all very primitive.
And they had to be all wiped out and scrubbed and all that nonsense. And that all to be done in your own spare time, before breakfast call. By the time that hooter went, you must have… I don’t think they cared whether you had a shower or not, but most of us did. Clean your teeth and go to the toilet and do all that.
And make your bed. So we would rush about. I used to make my bed first, as soon as I got up. Then go off and have a shower and get dressed in those overalls. We were issued those fairly quickly. And we’d have our breakfast. And on the second day we learned – there’s three or four of us together – “Right, you go in and make two slices of toast for us.” It was a big industrial type
toaster that took about eight or ten slices of bread. “So you go in and do that.” And you’d monopolise the toaster and get all that bread down. Somebody else would get the porridge. We knew it wasn’t going to get any better, so at least have porridge that was edible. Toast. Someone had brought some Vegemite with them. That was great, that was a lifesaver. A cup of tea that looked like dirty muddy water, but it was hot.
So that’s how we organised ourselves for breakfast. And then you’re out on parade and your whole day started. I can’t remember now exactly what it was, but there was a lot of marching in it. You had to learn how to halt. How to do right turn and all those things, right dress, all that nonsense. We were quite happy to do that, that was easy, so we were quite happy
to do that. But we still ate a lot of stuff from the canteen, like ice-cream and lollies and biscuits. I think when I joined up I was seven stone four, or less. When I got back to Perth I think I was eight stone six. My mother was there to meet me with my younger sister and my youngest brother, who would have been five.
I stepped off the train and he said, “Oh Mum! Isn’t she fat!” It took quite a while to get rid of all that baby fat. But I always found it easy to lose weight, which I did, when you get onto a proper diet. And you have a routine that is much easier than the rookie [initial training] course. I thought, “God, if it’s going to be like this
I don’t think I will ever make it.” But when you got your posting it was just more relaxed. And you fitted in, you knew what you had to do, you just fitted into the station. It was back then to as normal a life as being in the services can be. But we were not bawled out; we were treated like everyday people except you had to obey the regulations.
They had silly regulations as far as we were concerned, the women, because the awful old stockings, you weren’t allowed to wear inside out, which took the fluff off them and they looked better inside out, with the seam up the back. When we were in uniform and we’d go to town, we’d all turn our stockings inside out. But you could go on a charge for that if you were caught, but we thought that was just a silly rule.
So everybody broke that rule without feeling bad about it. And then later on we were issued with what was called a bomber jacket, which was khaki and it came into a cuff around the waist. It had an ordinary pointed collar on it. It had a yoke across the top with three pleats on the left side, three pleats on the right and probably the same amount on the back.
And we were not allowed to iron those into pleats. They had to be all puffy. They looked so stupid like that. So everybody ironed those into pleats and I think they just got sick of putting so many people onto charge for such nonsense. Probably the CO [Commanding Officer] said, “This is nonsense. Forget it.” The girls thought they were silly rules, so you disobeyed those. When I got my posting – which was to
6 Fighter Sector Headquarters, which was then in Mount Lawley, which was close to town – we were told then we were not allowed to keep a diary, which I would have liked to have done. That was contravening the Secrecy Act. And we were not allowed to keep a diary.
We were not allowed to tell anybody what we did at work because the Fighter Sector Headquarters was in an old Masonic Lodge building, right in Mount Lawley, which was in a suburb of Perth, right in amongst all the civilian houses. But once you got inside, it was stuffed full of what was then state-of-the-art technology.
So the girls were not allowed to say what they did. People asked and you just had to say that were a clerk. They ran three full shifts there. Sometimes, if they were not busy through the night, the girls were allowed to go and lie down on a blanket somewhere. And because a lot of the girls on the night shift took a blanket with them, the rumour went around amongst the civilians then
that we were prostitutes and we were sleeping with the officers. That’s why they had a blanket over their arm. Luckily, the CO tracked down that rumour. But I can understand why the people around us thought that because nobody was allowed to say anything about what was happening. And there was an RAAF guard out the front with his rifle, walking up and down. Certainly
it didn’t make people feel at ease. I think they thought what people thought when they don’t know what’s happening. It’s secret, we’re not allowed to say what is happening. Even our mail had to be addressed to Group 696, care of Western Area Headquarters. That was brought out to the station and distributed to us.
Can I take you back to Victor Harbour, the training period. You said before that one of the recreational things you used to have was dances, that was when you were allowed to mix with the men…
Saturday night, we were allowed to do that. That was only ever Saturday night that I was there.
But what about during the week with the training, how much mixing went on there?
None. None whatsoever.
If they did, or if they knew… It wasn’t unusual for the girls to know someone. Could have been a brother or whatever. We weren’t allowed to talk to them. We were not allowed to mix with them because of this great fear that somehow or other we would get pregnant. In Victor Harbour, I think it was Friday night, a pie cart used to come. They were not allowed on the stations, but they were allowed near
the entrance gates. So this guy would pull up with his pie cart and he had all these lovely warm meat pies, fruit pies. Because we were all starving to death, they would ring a bell when the pie cart was there, we would all rush down and what little money we had we would spend on pies. And that was about the only time that you could mix with boys. And then it had to be very fervently. Then the DI [Drill Instructor] would come around
and say, “Righto, break it up. Break it up.” So the most mixing we had was at the dances. They couldn’t stop us fraternising down in say the town itself. You could do what you liked down there…
Interviewee: Muriel Horsfall Archive ID 1694 Tape 04
As I said, the huts were made of wood and asbestos; they were unlined. There was no heating in it whatsoever and they were freezing cold.
I had a candlewick dressing gown that I had taken with me, so I used to sleep in that. And I can’t remember what I took for night wear, probably something totally inappropriate, and socks. We were freezing. And to get up in the morning and you had to scrub out these ablutions, or sweep outside the huts or whatever. My hands were just frozen.
And I wrote home to my mother… We were not allowed to wear gloves, but we could have mittens. So the interpretation of mittens then was like a glove but with the top finger joint off. So I wrote and asked my mother if she could get me some mittens because I couldn’t get any in Victor Harbour. You would think that the shopkeepers would have woken up to that,
or had the local CWA [Country Women’s Association] sit down and turn out millions of pairs of mittens. Mum couldn’t find mittens in Nannup, so a friend of mine and her mother sat down one weekend and knitted me a pair of mittens in royal blue wool. That’s all they had; they didn’t have black or any other colour. So they thought that that should be allowable. So in the next mail –
and keep in mind there were only two trains into Nannup, but God knows how many were bringing mail across the Nullabor Plain – but within a week to ten days I had those mittens. So I’d wear those. You were sweeping and you were almost frozen to death and you were trying to clean out these horrible places.
Everything was totally spartan because it had all been erected so quickly. But the girls were subjected to the same conditions as the boys.
But we really thought that we had to do what was asked of us. It was just part of the whole thing. Because I was so desperate to be in the air force, I just thought that what they were asking me to do was
not over the top, even though I might not have agreed with a lot of it. I thought a lot of it was, as I said, very demeaning, so…
Well, I was going to ask you about female instructors. Did you have any female sergeants?
No, we had the same male drill instructor
the whole time we were there. I think they were mostly male instructors. We might have had some women lecturers, but I really can’t tell you with any authority whether we did or not. Later in my career, yes. But I think they were all male cooks, too,
at that stage. We did have female cooks later on, but I think they were mostly male because you see they had only started full recruiting of WAAAF from when Japan came into the war, which would have been December, 1941. And they got such a shock. The air force said, “Well, we’ve got to have women, irrespective of whether you like it or not, we’ve got to have them.”
The WAAAF was the first one to start and then the army came after that. And I think it was all quite ad hoc.
Were you trained in the use of weapons?
No, we were not. We sort of knew that we were not going to be shot at, or be expected to shoot. The only training we had was in
And how did they train you recognise aircraft?
Just with diagrams on the wall., “This is a Japanese whatever.” “This is the aircraft that we are flying,” at that time. We were trained in RAAF protocol and law and how you had to behave. You were certainly told
how you had to behave. We were not to draw attention to ourselves in uniform. It seemed to be a big thing at that stage. Public criticism was in some way impeding recruitment to the women’s services because a lot of people like Fred Nile [well known conservative Christian minister] and those people these days who are anti-whatever, I think initially they thought
that women shouldn’t be… That the services were a man’s domain, that women shouldn’t be in it. It was okay to have women as nurses and VAD aids and all that, but did they really need us for other things? And I think that the mundane jobs that women do very well allowed the air force to post their men up north there. I know that I replaced
three men in my department. Maybe they were over staffed, but one was a flight sergeant, one was a sergeant and one was an LAC [Leading Aircraftsman]. So when my posting came through, two of them knew that they would be going up north very quickly. The jobs were not hard. Once you knew how to do them, it was easy work, but
if you had an officer who was anti-WAAAF he could make it very unpleasant for you. But I never encountered that.
What about Victor Harbour? You said before that you could go into town?
Yes, well, I’m sure the townspeople accepted us with open arms. And I guess because we had money to spend and we’d spend it on food. I had my camera with me.
I think I was told that if you had a camera you could take that with you. It was just a little Box Brownie. I couldn’t take photos inside. I didn’t have a flash of any sort, but that little camera went everywhere with me because it had been given to me when I was nine. Because of my mother’s background, I felt that that was an important part of what was happening right there and then.
So what did you take photographs of?
Ourselves. In our new uniforms, because we wanted to send those home. We knew that the family were desperate for those sorts of information about you. I think what I did was send the film back to Mum, which she printed and then sent the snaps back to me. But I really can’t remember actually what I did.
But I was one of the few with a camera. I’ve always loved Victor Harbour because of the way that I was treated there. They had a lovely little house in the town that was called the WAAAF Cottage, where we could go on leave. We could make cups of tea and coffee and we could write letters. You couldn’t get a meal there and you couldn’t sleep there. And you couldn’t meet men there. That was where I think the whole system
fell down. They really had nowhere for the WAAAF to meet men and just talk. They were treated as outcasts. They really had this great fear that if we got together we would start having sex. And it was like that at all. A lot of the boys were just as shy as we were. And I just felt they were training to be
aircrew and how many were going to come back? That really bothered me. I thought, “A lot of them are going to die.” And that was an underlying fear of mine that did bother me. The little cottage in town was a lovely place to go. They always had fresh flowers in vases there for us.
Who ran that? Who set that up?
I think it might have
been the CWA or… All these little committees started up and people saw a need for different things and somebody would say, “Right, let’s do that.” But one condition was that we had to keep it clean. So once a week they would call for volunteers to go down and sweep it out and dust and do all that. That was a nice duty so everybody didn’t
mind doing that, so they always got more volunteers than were needed. Victor Harbour as it is, there’s a little horse-drawn tram that goes from the main town out to some rock, so we all went on that.
So where were the barracks in relation to the town? How far off?
They were at Mount Bracken. When I went back, a while back,
it’s not as high as it is in my memory. You think it’s like a great big mountain. It’s higher than the rest of the town; it does overlook the town. And a big castle sort of a thing there was the headquarters. I don’t think I ever went in there except to get my posting. But it was moral to take in air force trainees.
Even though it’s now a catering place, they do have plaques there to say that women trained there. And that was a big highlight of the WAAAF reunion in Adelaide in 2001. My sister and I went to that. A lot of women all around Australia went to that. It was very well organised and it brought back a lot of memories to me.
But they weren’t running the train from Victor Harbour to Adelaide. That had been discontinued. So that was very nostalgic. But as in all things, nothing seemed to be as big when I went back as it was when I was there. It’s like childhood memories where things seem so much bigger than when you do go back.
And you think, “Why did I think that was so tall? Or so far?” So I wonder what else in your memories is conditioned like that.
Were you allowed to drink alcohol?
Not on the station, unless it was done surreptitiously.
What about at the dances?
No, no. You do what you like while you were in town.
If you wanted to drink, you could. I don’t think I drank much at all then. I had to be taught how to drink.
So how often were you able to go into town?
Once a week. We did get leave; I think it would be on a Saturday, from eight until four o’clock, or whatever.
They were pretty strict about movements and what you did. And when we’d finished our training, we all had to get dressed up in our uniforms and we had a pass out parade and all these young women who were aircrew training, they were all in their uniforms and they had to march onto the parade ground.
They watched our pass out parade and we had to do the same for them. The CO congratulated us on passing our rookies course and telling us how much we were needed and all that blah business that went on. But when we’d had our pass out parade, then we had to wait for our postings. Everybody went all over the place.
It just depended on what you were doing. Some of the girls that needed further training were sent over here, the rest were sent back to WA. Apparently it was an air force object to send you back to the state in which you were enlisted. Why that was so, I don’t know. Maybe so that
you could get home on home leave easier than if you went to, say, to Townsville, which is where I wanted to go.
So the girls at Victor Harbour, they came from different states, did they?
Well, there was our two flights who were West Australians and I can’t remember if there were others there at the same time. I know the boys had come from all over the place because we could grade them
by their dancing, as to what state they had come from. We knew that WA were good dancers. South Australians were not good dancers. Victorians were good dancers. New South Wales were just so-so. That’s how we’d say to them, “Are you from Perth?” “Yes.” You could tell by their dancing. Whether they could do fancy steps or not.
We used to show off. Do a quickstep and belt around the hall at a hundred miles an hour. We all looked forward to the dances. It was funny, on one of our Probus tours up into the country here somewhere, there were a couple there and the man had done his training in Victor Harbour, so there was a lot of talk between
he and I about this. I said, “Gee, we would have loved to have got a bit closer to all you guys.” He said, “What do you think we were thinking?” For the boys it was for real. They were going where they could be killed. We knew that wasn’t going to happen to us.
But you had fears though, nevertheless, about
the encroaching war, about the Japanese…
Yes, I was concerned about it, very concerned. Before I joined I was more concerned because it was a pattern that the Japanese would bomb heavily and then invade it. So when Darwin was bombed, we probably heard more in WA than they might have here because people were coming backwards and forwards. There were a lot of refugees from Malaya and the Netherlands, East Indies,
and they were coming down through WA ports, from Darwin, to Broome to Perth and then wherever they wanted to go. And so they told their stories. And that was like a grapevine. It got around how cruel they were and how they were raping and killing the indigenous populations. So we thought, “If they do that to Chinese and Malays, what will they do to us?” And we did know about
the bombing of Broome because the survivors from that came to Perth. And there was a reconnaissance plane over Geraldton. We thought, “Oh my God, they’re getting down as far as Geraldton.” But it turned out, when we had access to the Japanese records, that that little plane was off a Jap submarine. It was an unarmed little plane and it couldn’t have done any damage.
But we didn’t know that.
So the refugees from Broome, after the raids there, coming down to Perth, were they talking to the media?
I’m sure they were. But there was a blackout, the media was told what they could report and what they couldn’t report. At that stage, the West Australian population was very fearful of what was going to happen. And it wasn’t just us,
who were considered the hoi-polloi [the common people], but the well educated women, like Alexandra Hasluck and different people of her genre, it was rumoured they had gone around all the chemist shops in Perth and brought up the Lysol that they could find. Which was a very strong disinfectant. So if they were raped by the Japs they were going to drench themselves with that so they wouldn’t get pregnant.
So they were the sort of rumours that were going around. And also, as I said, that my mother and the lady over the road, who said they would rather shoot their daughters then let them be raped by the Japs. So there was a very high level of fear. Because of the pattern that we had of bombing heavily and then invading. The Japs were coming from East Timor, which was very close to
WA. Except I understand that from Timor to Broome was the absolute limit of their scope. But they did cause a lot of damage. They had a reconnaissance plane go over there, initially, which told them that there were all these planes in Broome Harbour, in Roebuck Bay, and they didn’t know what they were.
They came and they strafed the place and killed people and all these women and children…
Can you remember that happening?
I didn’t know all the details of it, but we did know that a lot of people had been killed; women and children had been killed. It was funny, later on in my
career I was attached to Pearce to go and work in 14 Squadron, which flew Beaufort bombers. They have a reunion every two or three years, these Beaufort bomber people. So they had one in Melbourne some time back and because I had worked in the squadron I was allowed to go. There was one man saying, he was in New Guinea at the time, he was saying, “Yeah,” he said,
“When we heard the Japs bombed Broome, we laughed our heads off. Because we said, “Why would they do that? There’s nothing there.” And I said, “Well, that’s where you were wrong. Because there was eighty-eight or more people killed there.” And they knew nothing about it. And when I talk to people over here, they don’t know anything about it. And that would have been because the press was gagged on reporting on it because
it was creating so much fear. And country people, I suppose, I knew my father had access to a gun because we had a little silver revolver. What for? I don’t know. The people over the road, all the boys, she had three grown sons, they all had rifles and they’d go out kangaroo and rabbit shooting, they knew how to shoot.
I knew my mother could shoot, too, because she was a farm girl and she had learned to do those things. All that background stuff was going on in your mind when people were talking about this because while you said nothing you knew, “Yes she could do it,” and, “Yes, she could do it.” But then with my life experience, as a mother, whether she could have shot three daughters…
But I said to Daphne over the road, “Do you think they’re really going to shoot us?” She said, “Well, they say it, don’t they?” It was a very high level affair. And you cannot replicate that now. That’s why when people say to you, “Why don’t you rule a line under all that? That happened last century. Forget about it. We don’t want to know about it.” And you see stories like Pearl Harbor,
Hollywood’s idea of what happened, and you just think, “No, it wasn’t like that.” So my family have encouraged me to write about what I was have experienced even though, in my mind, in the wheel I really wasn’t all that important, but where I worked was very important. But…
What about propaganda at the time about the Japanese?
Well, everything that was said about them we believed because it was so different to… the war experience, I suppose. They were a totally new concept. We had heard about RAAF prisoners being beheaded. We thought that was just so crude.
My own personal thought was that they could do anything, that they were just so cruel and then it was confirmed later on just how cruel they could be. I had a man working for me in Perth, he could only do floors. That’s what he used to do, he had a big polisher and he had been working on the Burma Railway and they had hit him several times across the back with a shovel,
and that so disabled him that all he was able to do was floors. So people helped him work up his business to do that because of his wartime experience. But he really hated the Japanese.
So in newspapers and…
They were important. But I think…
A lot of us didn’t have that much media awareness perhaps as we do now. “Don’t believe him.” Or you look to see who has written a story to find that they all have a barrow to push somewhere. We felt that we weren’t getting enough, that there was more to it than we were being told. But certainly nothing that was said about the Japanese we had cause to disbelieve. And when
these stories came through that these evacuated women were telling, and the men who made the last boat out of Malaya, they were telling their stories, but it wasn’t being printed per se, but because Perth is such a small city, the news got around very quickly. I think we also knew that as a state that we were going to be left for dead. Which was not a nice thought, either.
So when the American submarines came in the next day after Broome was bombed, their first submarines came in, so they were the first American servicemen that we saw on the streets. Lots of soldiers go through Perth. And we felt they were saviours, and yet from their point of view it was as far as they could get without being bombed… But if
Perth had been bombed, they would have moved on, but we didn’t know that at the time. And Fremantle was a US [Unites States of America] submarine base, so we had all them all to ourselves.
So how many subs came in to Perth, did you say?
I’d have to look that up…
From what you recall of it?
We weren’t allowed on Fremantle wharf anyway. That was forbidden.
But we knew they were there because we saw them out on the street. And quite a lot of the girls went out with American submarine boys. And they were just different to Australians and this is where the men don’t like to hear that. US servicemen had such lovely manners. For me, what stuck me most, was their beautiful teeth. They all had lovely, white teeth. Certainly they were
dressed better too, but submariners were volunteers the same as we were and they considered themselves a cut above the rest, too, the same as the air force. And Perth people just took them to heart. Because who else is going to save us? We knew they wouldn’t save us. But it was reassuring to know that they were there and that the Americans wouldn’t leave their submariners
for dead, either.
Did you know any of them personally?
Well, the one that I went out with was in 1945 so I didn’t actually have a US boyfriend, but as I said before, I was totally besotted by Australian aircrew. Nobody could come up to that. They were the ones that I went out with. Nobody else.
So I was a bit snooty about all that. Maybe because I was closer to them. But quite a few of my air force friends did go out with Americans and they were just so well mannered. The one that I went out with, I had a teddy bear coat
and he’d help me into he. I had long hair then. He’d put his hands underneath my hair and ooohh… No Australian boy ever did that. If you’ve got two arms and two legs, well look after yourself. It wasn’t only that. We knew that what they were doing
was very dangerous, too. They’d go out for nearly sixty days and then they would come back… But there was a lot of exchange between Fremantle and Pearl Harbor. There was a mail order service going for US sailors who wanted to give their girlfriends presents. Like the embroidered underwear that the Chinese used to do. The boys
would order that and it would come back on the next submarine. To me it seemed like a mail order service that these boys had going. But not all the submarines came back, either. So that was another thing that I referred to in my story of ‘The Big Flap’. And
that was from a commander of one of the submarines. And I was thirty years getting that information and I finally got it from a book that was on loan from the National Library, which I got through the library exchange. But I could see all these books listed in the bibliography and their sources and this Silent Victory kept coming up by
Clay Blair, so I just had to get that book. So when I ordered it from the library, none of their sources had it and they could only get it from the National Library. It came with a big proviso that I could only have it for two weeks, then I had to send it back. But it was the total history of the submarines in the Pacific. So I had to plough through all that until I got to that and thought, “That’s what I want to know.”
My war service has also coloured the way I have been thinking in my civilian life, on what I read and I guess how I assess people. And even though it was just three and a half years out of my life, it was a very important part of my life. My character forming
and meeting Bill and all those sorts of things. I didn’t meet him until June of 1945, so the war was nearly over. And my daughter-in-law wrote a story about me caring for Bill and she had at the end of it, “Bill was a very lucky man the day Muriel walked into his life.” And I said to her, “Well I didn’t walk into his life,
he barged into mine.” Which is how it happened. I guess at that time, your mind is starting to think about what is going to happen in civilian life. I put my besottedness of aircrew down to ground staff then because I thought, “These are the guys that are going to get the jobs.” That was a bit of thinking
that I wasn’t really conscious of until later on, when I was self-analysing about why did I do this. Why did I decide I would marry him? Because our family are all short, I think in the back of my mind I wanted his tall genes and his good teeth.
Let’s just finish off this tape with Victor Harbour. How long were you there altogether?
About a month. I’ve got our pay books, too, so you can refer back to that with accuracy.
I don’t know how many service people kept their pay books. I did and Bill did because I think we both had a sense of history. But as far as the uniform was concerned, I just took it home and just threw it in the bedroom and said, “Do what you like with it.” And yet some of the others have kept everything. And at the WAAAF reunions they dress up younger people, because we have all expanded since then.
And they’ve become something that we wish we had kept.
Did you get clerical training or secretarial training at all?
No, you had to have that. As far as I was concerned, as an equipment assistant, I had to learn in-house. You had to have a basic knowledge of something or other, but I never had to pack things.
I was just ordering in all this technical stuff and I had to work with the electronical sergeants to recognise these things. They’d come up with a resistor or a condenser or a valve and say, “I want that replaced.” And I knew what catalogue I had to look at and then they had to identify it because things were so many ohms and so many this and so many that.
And they weren’t allowed to have, say, half a dozen there in case they needed them. They were only allowed to have one in the machine and one spare, which made it very difficult to keep all these technical things going. But I guess it was because they were in terribly short supply.
So he would identify it and I would write out the voucher and send it off to War Stores Depot, which was in Maylands, and depending on how urgent it was it would come in due course, otherwise I would just ring through and say, “This is the next voucher number, I want such and such and we want it today.” So they would make a special delivery of it and let the paperwork catch up afterwards.
I remember one story that Elizabeth Richards [Archive researcher] thought was funny. This was when I was in charge. The flight sergeant had gone and the LAC had gone and I was in charge with a WAAAF accounting officer, who was supposed to oversee all my department and pay as well. And he said, “We are going to do a spot check of the mess today.” I thought, “Oh God, that will be terrible,”
because they could never find anything. Stores were divided up between A Class and C Class. Now that would be A Class, that would be C Class because you couldn’t account for toilet paper and those sort of things, but light globes, you had to return the bulb bit of it. Didn’t matter if there was no glass there, you had to return that. Everybody had to sign for stuff, so tea towels and tea pots and cutlery
and pots and pans, all had to be signed by someone in the messing department. Now I knew they could never find any brooms and I knew it was going to be a complete disaster. They had about seventy tea towels on charge and all they could come up with was about twenty. They were like bits of gauze, you could see through them. What they did with tea towels, I have no idea.
Anyhow, when we finished this check, I went into the CO and I said, “They’re down to about forty tea towels. I’ll have to raise a discrepancy report.” He said, “Oh, well, you don’t do that. Those things follow you to the end of the earth.” Because as CO they are nominally responsible for every piece of equipment on the station.
He said, “See what else you can think of.” What am I going to think of? But I had come back from PS all right then, so I had all this knowledge that… That steep learning curve that I had learned up there in 14 Squadron. I thought, “My God, what am I going to do with forty tea towels? How can we do that?” Then all of a sudden I got this great brainwave. I tore the whole lot up into
tiny little strips and poked them into a bag and made it look as fluffy as possible, sent it off to 4 Stores Depot requesting forty new tea towels. I was holding my breath, “What will happen here?” In the end, forty new tea towels turned up. And I could hardly believe my good luck. I took them in and said, “That’s been solved, sir. We fixed up the tea towels.”
And he said, “Thank you. That’s great.” But all those sort of situations arose and you thought, “How am I going to get around all the rules and regulations for this?” That one was my most daring and I couldn’t really believe that someone would accept that. But there were a lot of other people there, too, who thought,
“We’re fighting a war here. We’re not worrying about tea towels.” And I felt so sorry for the messing staff. They had all this rotten rubbish to try and serve up nutritious meals – bully beef and dehydrated stuff – and they had everybody complaining to them about how rotten the food was. And it was for my total air force career. I thought the food was rotten. I spent all my spare money on eating out, as we all did.
Interviewee: Muriel Horsfall Archive ID 1694 Tape 05
You got us to Mount Lawley. What was your first impression of that place? What were you expecting when you got there?
Well, when they told me at Victor Harbour that I had been posted to 6 Fighter Section Headquarters, I thought, “Great!” The mind went millions of currents ahead and I thought, “Gee, there will be fighters taking off and
Battle of Britain stuff.” Of course I had no idea what it was. I asked where it was and they said, “You have to report to Western Area Headquarters and they will tell you. It’s all very secret.” I thought, “That sounds great to me.” As I said in my letter, when I had written to my mother and told
her when I was due back in Perth and even though they were living in the country, she did come down to Perth with my youngest brother and sister. So when I saw them on the station, when I got off the train, there were no RAAF people around or anything, so I thought, “Well, they don’t know what time I got here.” So I went off with my mother, brother and sister and had a cup of tea somewhere,
a little talk and then when I did report to headquarters they told me where I had to go, which bus to catch and where to get off. I thought, “How can there be a fighter sector at Mount Lawley? There’s no landing strips there.” So that threw me a bit, I had no idea what it was. So anyway, I just followed the instructions,
got on the bus, they didn’t give me my bus fare or anything, so I got out there and all I could see was this building. “Gosh, it can’t be in there.” And there was a young RAAF guardsman on duty, there was several steps up to the front door. So he challenged and I showed him my pass and he let me in. I had to report to orderly room.
There was nobody rushing around with papers or steel helmets or whatever. Well, this was a big mystery to me. Anyhow, this friend of mine who said she wanted to join as a nurse hand; she arched her eyebrows and handed over my papers and said, “Just wait here, please.” They checked my paper and I went off
to the WAAAF officer. She was FO [Flight Officer] Matheson, I think. It seemed to me that her duty was to look over your clothing card to see what had been issued to you and what you needed. So I told her that the shoes didn’t fit very well. She said, “Right, the next clothing run to Maylands, you can go on it and they can give you what you haven’t got.” Keeping in mind
that WA has a hot summer and I had no summer clothing. I just had the winter dress. So anyhow, she said, “I’ll get one of the girls to take you around. You will be sleeping in the headquarters flat.” I thought, “Flat? That all sounds very nice.” She took me down the back lane and into the sleeping quarters, which for us were
a new block of flats which had just been built for some of the other shift workers as well. And there were three other beautiful old Victorian homes that the shift workers were in. It seemed nice and compact, even though we were sleeping on wire stretchers with palliasses, I thought it all looked
very clean and sunny and close to Perth, which I thought suited me fine. And then I went back to headquarters, she took me into what was the stores and accounting section, which was only a little cubbyhole sort of thing and introduced me to Sergeant Ustes, LAC Parker and Flight Sergeant Lock.
And they all looked very nice, they were very friendly and they seemed very welcoming, even though they knew that they were going to be posted north because I had arrived on the scene. It all seemed very casual to me. They ran down the rules, what we were supposed to do. We lined up, just on a suburban road, a couple of streets
away from headquarters. It all seemed very as usual to me. Anyway, I think it was Beryl, one of the other girls took me down to the operation room to show me what was going on there. That seemed more like what I thought I should be doing, or be a part of anyway. So they ran
three full shifts a day. I don’t know how many girls were on each ship. But the CO of the station was a pilot, he had war experience. The controllers… I think he was a pilot, too, they were all aircrew people. They were our RAAF. Some Dutch people, some Dutch aircraft crew,
couple of Americans… All these high profile visitors would come and go, view the scene. I guess at that stage in WA they were all very alert for unidentified aircraft, which seemed to be mostly Catalina pilots coming in off course. There was an American Catalina squadron based on the Swan River.
They would take off from there and go as far north as they were capable. But it seemed for one reason or another, our rules and regulations didn’t apply to them, or they were very casual about how they respected these rules. So that if they were coming in off course, they didn’t seem to think what impression they were
giving. Not impression, but what stress it was causing our people because they were also, as I understand it, responsible for issuing air-raid warnings from amber to green. And until an aircraft was identified, it was amber. And if it still got close to the city and they didn’t identify itself,
they had to alert their red alarm. So all that, I wasn’t really a part of that, I just heard that from the girls even though they weren’t supposed to tell anybody outside the station. They just seemed to think that that really wasn’t top-grade secret stuff, although they did obey all rules regarding security.
That seemed to be something we all took very seriously. And more so because we were women and we were told that some parts of the air force thought that women couldn’t keep secrets. But women in very sensitive areas did keep secrets for thirty years.
And some of them still feel that they shouldn’t be talking about it. But it seemed to me, after that hectic rush of the course, it seemed very pleasant to be able to, more or less, take your own time. Be where you had to be on time, but it was up to you whether you had breakfast or not. I quickly found out that some of the girls who maybe
the shifts overlapped one another and they didn’t have access to the mess for breakfast, they were issued with stuff like toasted cheese and tea and coffee that they could make themselves. So I got friendly with them and sometimes if I missed breakfast I went down for some toasted cheese and whatever they were having. Apart from that, my job seemed to be just to
learn as I went along. It was explained to me how the system worked, but there wasn’t much for me to do with the sergeant there and the LAC and a flight sergeant stores clerk. And there wasn’t much of a store there. There was just palliasse cases and the straw was somewhere else and toilet paper and mostly C Class stuff. And the sergeant
on a Saturday afternoon – and he’s probably dead now, so it doesn’t matter – he used to go off and get himself nicely turped [drunk] somewhere and come back and have a sleep on the palliasses on the storeroom, but it didn’t seem to upset the war in the Pacific in any way. So I just learned a little bit at a time. There didn’t seem to be that much to learn. And I thought
with all these publications, I was hoping it didn’t have to be committed to memory because there seemed to be such a lot of it. And I went back there weighing eight stone six, so over a period of a month or more, I got rid of all that extra weight, going back onto a normal diet. And just living a
nice, liveable life. The girls that I shared the flat with very nice. They wouldn’t let you think you weren’t somebody. You had to fit in with the routine. There was a bathroom and there were eight of us in that flat. So there had to be a bit of a routine in the morning about the shower.
You weren’t supposed to stay in there any longer than… There was a certain time bracket, over what period eight girls could have a shower and put on their underwear. It didn’t matter whether you were dressed or not, you had to have your shower and get out of that bathroom. And we had one girl with us who just could not hurry. She was always last out of the flat. We let her go in first to have a shower.
Why she was so tardy, we don’t know. “Come on Dobsie, your turn now.” So she’d go in and then we’d time here and knock on the door and say, “Come on, you’ve had enough, come on out.” The rest would be in, out, get dressed. We had to leave everything nice and tidy and the messing hut was quite a way from where we were stationed. So
if you wanted breakfast you had to walk all the way down there to get breakfast. Because the kitchen in the flat, everything had been sealed off. The gas was sealed off, there was water coming through, but no hot water. That was all sealed off. There were no coverings on the floor, it was boards. And just the stretchers with a palliasse and half a wardrobe.
There was a wardrobe there, partitioned off, with hanging space, a little shelf over the top and I think two drawers at the bottom and we were allowed half of that. You could have a case on the top. There was to be no civilian clothing in that wardrobe. So it all had to be in the case. And we had a little bedside thing about half the size of that table,
and on that you were allowed to have three things. A photo, a vase of flowers and something else that I’ve forgotten and that’s all. So on a Tuesday morning, which was the CO’s inspection morning, the cupboard doors had to be open, you only had to have air force things in there. The cases had to be closed on top of the wardrobe.
No shoes or anything out. They all had to be put away. The bed had to be made, folded in regulation style. Other times we could leave them made up. So we didn’t have floor polish for these boards, so we bought ourselves from the canteen Kiwi Nugget [shoe polish], in those little tins, and we had a little brush about four or five inches long and we’d brush this Nugget all over these floors
every Monday night, ready for the CO’s inspection. Everything else had to be spick and span. We quickly learned how to do all that. And get everything all nice and tidy and have a bit of fun. Such as once we had a water fight. There was a hose down below and we were hosing everybody upstairs and everybody downstairs. But we learned that made a lot of work so we didn’t do that any more.
But it really was quite a relaxed time. CO’s inspection day, we had to be dressed in full uniform and we were marched around to be behind the sector, they would line us all up and do this open order march, while the CO went and inspected everybody. And he really did. If you had a button off
or not done up, it was pointed out to you. If your hair was too long, you would be told to cut it. Then they would run up the flag and everybody had to salute the flag. No we didn’t have a flag, that’s right, because it was a secret place. And I remember this friend of mine, who we called the ‘Duchess’, somebody rang up from Western Area headquarters
and said, “I believe you are not flying the flag out there?” She said, “We are not allowed to.” Rules and regulations. “We are not allowed to. It’s a secret place.” So she turned out to be right anyway, so that was right. And other times we were allowed to go to work in our jeans, you didn’t have to be in your uniform, but you had to be on CO’s inspection day.
For me, a working day was from eight to five, what there was to do at that time. Now that would have been the beginning of August 1942. And I really didn’t learn all that much in that time. But early in 1943,
the storekeeper at 14 Squadron at Pearce had asked for six WAAAFs to go up there and help him with his bookwork because he got so far behind. So I was one that was picked to go up there and that was my very steep learning curve. I learned a lot up there because he had us do everything.
Your work at Mount Lawley, what did that involve for you, in stores there?
As I said, not much in the beginning because they were overstaffed. So these guys were doing it. It basically was ordering in things. All this high class electronic stuff they were using in sector. As I said, they were not
allowed to hold half a dozen resistors or condensers or whatever. It was laid down how much equipment they were allowed to have. So, say a valve in a receiving machine, they were only allowed to have one in the machine and one spare. Now like electric light globes, they could both fuse in the one day and that caused a bit of trouble.
We didn’t keep stores of that, it all had to be ordered in. For clothing, we would get on a clothing run and go to 4SD [Stores Department], which was Maylands. The stores, they didn’t hold a whole lot of stock at all, it all to be ordered in. And because it was so technical, I couldn’t identify in the
books and things that had everything listed in it. So that had to be identified by the mechanics and the people who were operating these machines, not the girls that were pushing clerks’ plaques on the plotting table; it was the men. All the technicians were men and
mostly sergeants. So I guess they knew their job and they knew what they wanted. So I would just write out the voucher and just hope that what they had picked out of this catalogue was what they wanted. But until those two men were shifted out of that department, I really didn’t have a lot to do. There was a typewriter there and
because I couldn’t use a typewriter they actually taught me how to do that. To sit down and do that. And I guess they were told to train me as quickly as they could, too, because they knew they were going to be shifted and the CO knew that eventually I would be the only one there. So for the first few months I was there,
I really can’t remember what I did. I don’t think it was a lot. I was very embarrassed to think that I was sitting there not knowing what to do. So when I was posted to Pearce and attached to 14 Squadron, that’s really where I learned almost everything that I knew because I was allowed to do all sorts of things.
What more can you tell us about the Duchess?
Well, I don’t know a lot about it. I don’t know why they were there. There was certainly a lot of traffic with these highly decorated… They were all officers of some sort. What they were actually doing there, I don’t know. But if you find girls from 5 Sector who were in the operations room, they will be able to tell you because
I wasn’t even supposed to be in there. But if you went in there with a pad and a pencil, no-one challenged you. I would go in to have a look every now and then. But I didn’t know what the plots and the diagrams meant. But 5 Sector was hooked up to what they called the Voluntary Air Observers, whether it was a league, corporation or an association
or what, but they were all civilian people who had been trained in aircraft identification and they were throughout the south west of WA and they would report in to headquarters anything unusual that they had found, or that they had observed. I don’t know how busy they were either. I did get a tape from Canberra on the history
of fighter sector, but it didn’t really cover intelligence. They did say in one part of that that I think it was one or two Mae Wests had been found on the beach and they were sent in. Something else was sent in that they could identify at fighter sector, so it was sent off to RAAF intelligence. So somewhere along the line, there is another reel on intelligence that I haven’t had access to. But that other tape
didn’t tell me as much as I wanted to know. The signals section was next to me, but I didn’t really know what was going in there, either. You could hear the clatter of the teleprinter. We didn’t have a cipher officer at sector, so any coded messages that came in went through to the cipher officer, who was later on the most gorgeous woman that I’ve ever seen.
She wasn’t there very long. So there was an intelligence officer there, a cipher officer, the CO, the adjutant… The adjutant didn’t have to have flying experience, but all the other people had wings. Whether they had done much flying, I don’t know. There was a story going around that one of them, to qualify for overseas service, got himself
booked on a flight that would take him to Darwin then across some part of the Netherlands East Indies and then come back. Unfortunately for him, his plane was either shot down or had to make an emergency landing. He was taken prisoner of the Japs for the rest of the war. That was a pretty hard lesson for him to learn. There were all these stories that went around, that you couldn’t always verify either.
They were just what we called furphies [rumours]. But I felt that as though I was doing something there. The fact that it was secret, I suppose. We didn’t fraternise with the navvies, the people that were living in the houses, because we were told not to and we didn’t think that there was any reason that we should anyway. We were still allowed to wear civilian clothes
off the station. We were not supposed to leave the station in civilian clothes, but we did. So then you had to get back in again, too. We thought those things were what they called Mickey Mouse rules. You were not jeopardising anybody’s life by doing that. Perth was then a small city, so most of your entertainment in town was just the pictures
and the canteen dances that were on for service people. Going out for dinner and stuff like that. Perth was last port of call for troops going overseas because they went by ship. Fremantle was the last port of call. Some of the troops passing through did quite a lot of damage to public property, but mainly the New Zealanders did that.
They really were a wild lot. But everybody just took that as part of… We were on a war footing, so you just took all that as part of the everyday scene.
What sort of damage did they do?
Well, one night… The post office in Perth was the main post office then around in Forest Place… Had a lot of steps up to the main… Before you go into the post office.
So they picked up a little Austin car and had taken it up the steps and had put it on that landing outside the door. Another bunch of them had gone into Woolworths and bought themselves a lot of out-sized women’s bras and put them on over their uniform and they were walking around the streets like that. So it really wasn’t wilful damage, it was just high spirits, I suppose.
And people just accepted it. We just knew that they might never come back. There was one part of that that I always found very sad… I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that song ‘The Maoris’ Farewell’. It was played a lot in World War II; it was very evocative: “Now is the hour for us to say goodbye…” It was very haunting.
And that was played a lot around private homes and on the public airwaves. It seemed to just make the whole atmosphere quite sad because you knew it might happen like that, too. They were on their way, maybe to be killed, you just didn’t know. And the Americans were something different
inasmuch as we knew what they were supposed to be doing, but the general population were not supposed to know what subs [submarines] were out, or where they were going, when they were coming in. The girls that were going with them knew which sub was out and which one would come in. The only indication you had that a sub had come in was the queue of US sailors to go into Rose Street, the red light [prostitution] district of Perth.
And that was quite close to the railway station and the post office. You would see this queue snaking around, almost into the station. But some of them had it all worked out, too, and so did the locals and our own servicemen. They would get at the top of the queue, an American would come along and say, “I’ll give you five pounds, mate, for your place in the queue.”
So that was a bit of underground money that was going on there. But that was also taken as part of the scene. We felt that they were entitled to do that. One boy told me, at one stage they’d come in Cottesloe. They’d catch the train from Cottesloe into town.
There was a train that went from Fremantle up to Perth. Or they’d get on a bus. And a couple of old ladies at the back said, “God bless you, boys, you’re doing a good job. God bless you.” They’d lift their hat and say, “Thank you, ma’am.” Then they’d collapse into peals of laughter because they were on their way to Rose Street, so they just thought that was funny. But that was just… The whole population was
involved in some way or another. And Perth was a lovely little clean city. It was a bit close to all the action for a while. One of my brothers-in-law, he was in the army and he said he was in a battalion over there that used to move from, say, the south west right up to Geraldton. They’d do that all the time, just so people would think there were a lot of soldiers there. And
they were just the one lot going backwards and forwards. So those sort of stories got around. Everybody knew that we could be left for dead – they were not going to defend WA at all. It was a bit frightening.
Your sister Millie, did she end up in the WAAAF?
She did, she did. She joined in September. So after I got over the first week of
wondering what I’d done, I wrote and told her. And I told her what to join up as. She was smarter than I was as far as stores were concerned because she was working with my father most of the time and she could do stuff like bone a ham and all those sorts of things, with great sharp knives. She was a very quick learner and I think she enjoyed her service life, too.
We used to meet on the weekend and go to dances together. We fought a lot in our growing-up years and I think that was the time we were most amicable to each other, when we just saw one another on the weekend and we were sharing the same experience. I was discharged before Millie was, so I had
three and a half years service and she would have just over three years service.
And what had become of… You said that you had a boyfriend back home..
Well, he got the chop, didn’t he? No, he eventually, when he finished his training, he was eventually attached to the army as a spotter or something. He was still
a wireless telegraphist, but he was on an army plane. He was in New Guinea. And I wasn’t quite sure what he was doing. We did write to each other for a long time, but I suppose like all romances it just withered on the vine and I just didn’t see him that often. But I did want him to know that I wasn’t going to get engaged or married
during the war and he married someone else, which is… Yes, she was a WAAAF, too. A lot of servicemen married servicewoman. As my son said, “That’s because there was so many of you, Mum.” What always amused me was wearing those big awful daggy old overalls, it didn’t seem to… If somebody was interested, what you were wearing
didn’t put them off. It seemed to be your eyes or your face or something that attracted them, rather than bodies. I don’t know, maybe they could tell what sort of body was in that pair of jeans. I don’t know. I just felt freer not to be attached to anybody. I didn’t have a guilty conscience about anything, I could please myself what I did.
I just felt really sorry for all the boys that were going overseas and not knowing when they would come back. Some of them joined up very early in the war and didn’t come back here for four years or more. So for them it was really tough.
Did you know any boys, other than your boyfriend, others who went abroad?
Yes. I had four school friends who were in Bomber Command who were killed.
As you come up to Anzac Day, all these memories flood back to you and you just feel very sad that they didn’t get married, they didn’t get to be fathers or grandfathers. The ones that I knew were clever and it just seemed such a waste. Such a terrible waste.
I’m reading a book now on Bomber Command and I just wonder whether their lives meant anything, or whether they were just wasted. Whether what they were doing was productive or not. It’s easy to be wise in hindsight. But at that time, I suppose it was glamorous to be aircrew. I know one boy,
he was older than me… These men, these Australians that were in the RAF [Royal Air Force], they were being controlled by English officers, too. Not Australian officers. We had evidently relinquished all supervision of them, which certainly wasn’t right. Because they had to do as the RAF
said things had to be done. And British thinking was different to Australian thinking. And one boy, that was an only child, that must have been terrible for his parents. Another boy, he was working in the mill office, he was a pilot officer. I know what squadrons they were in, but I haven’t been able to track down how they died
and that’s something I would like to know. I know with the boy Harrison, he was a farm boy, but I know that he was quite clever at school. And the little girl who was delivering telegrams from the post office had to go out to the farm to deliver this telegram to the mother that he had been killed. And
the mother blamed that girl. She said, “It’s your fault.” Took it out on her, killed the messenger as they say. Which has worried her all her life, I know. Because I didn’t know that that episode had taken place until I met up with this post office friend years and years later. She said, “I got the blame for Windsey’s death. The mother just took it out on me.” And there were just
many things like that. It was just so sad.
You would have been working alongside women who had boyfriends, husbands…
That was another thing, too. You would just hear somebody sobbing in the night and you would wonder what had happened. That she had had a telegram that her boyfriend or her brother or even her father had been killed, or was missing, believed killed.
It just affected everybody. That was just the sad part of it. That was the background that you were working against. And I especially, I don’t know about anybody else, I just felt that whatever I was doing, however menial, maybe it did help. You felt part of the whole scene. It really did affect you
when, say… I came back from lunch one day and there’s a returned letter on the desk from a boy that I’d known. No explanation. You just knew that they were dead because the letter had been sent back. And that sort of hurt… And it still hurts. As I say, in my written notes, they left footprints on your heart
and even though you were not a lover, it was the sad bit of your life. And it still is. And sometimes you just think about this to yourself. You don’t tell anybody else because they don’t know the story around it.
Is that why you said you consciously made a decision not to get attached, not to get married…?
Yes. That was one and I suppose another one was who knows how they would come back? If you were a country girl and you were engaged to anybody and you broke that off because of whatever reason, the whole town censures you. So I wouldn’t just make that commitment. And
you’ve got to live with yourself, too, so I just felt that it was better not to get too attached. And anybody that I felt that I might fall in love with, I just broke that off because I didn’t want to get attached. And I didn’t want to get married. It sort of frightened me at that stage. The thought of having babies and being restricted. I just thought that I wasn’t ready for that.
That’s all it was. I wasn’t grown up enough, too, to be ready for that.
Interviewee: Muriel Horsfall Archive ID 1694 Tape 06
You mentioned that character the Duchess.
Yes, she was the only daughter in a family of four. Three brothers and Beryl, and her youngest brother was actually the boy that I fell in love with, who was flying
Dakotas from Townsville to New Guinea. Biscuit bombers they were called. And he would get leave to WA about every six months. So I fell madly in love with him. But we had arranged that between visits he would go out with who he wanted to and I would go out with who I wanted to. So it was more or less a war-time romance, that’s all. But he told me lots of things
that you wouldn’t write in letters and that I won’t repeat. So whether they happened or not, I did believe what he told me.
Are these stories about what happened up north?
Yes. He’s still alive, too. But he wrote very interesting letters and the envelopes were always decorated up with mosquitoes in big boots
and he would colour them in with an Atebrin tablet so they were all yellow. And when Bill knew him, too, he made me burn those letters and pictures of him because, I didn’t need to be reminded of him. And I wish that I had disobeyed him and put them in a box somewhere
because now they would have been just so valuable. He would squash a mosquito and send it down to me. I would open up a letter and out would fall a squashed up mosquito, just to show how big they were up there. So I found that a satisfying romance, although that was very erratic. I wasn’t always number one when he came down. He went out with other girls, too. Probably for reasons
that I wouldn’t supply.
He was a bit of a man about town, was he?
He was a bit of a larrikin, I think, even as a young man when he left school. He told me that he and his friends would ride bikes around the places, there were a lot of big palms in palm with dead leaves around them and they would light those and go off for their lives on the bike. And they did nearly get caught a couple of times.
He said during his training period, he was in the cabbage patch more than he was learning, so he must have been a naughty boy somehow. Those boys were pilots, they were the ones, they chose to be pilots. I thought he was good looking, he was interesting, he was tall, he was doing something that I thought was helping to win the war.
My birthday was the 4th of July and his birthday was the 6th of July. So I always remembered him on his birthday, “Happy birthday, Bob.” I don’t remember him… One of those photos of me, that one near the oranges, was his and he told me that he pinned it up in the plane so he could look at me around New Guinea. So whether he did that or not, I don’t know.
When the romance finished, I asked for my photos back, which he did send back, so I hold no animosity towards him. I suppose I skited about the photo I had on my little table of him. I don’t know where that is now. It probably got mislaid. We moved around so much, too, things get lost.
That was the one photo you were allowed on your bedside table?
Yes. There was a bit of kudos attached to who you had on your little table. Everybody’s boyfriend had to be gorgeous, you didn’t want anybody who was ugly. As one of my nieces said to me, “There are two things in life you can’t be, Aunty Muriel, and that’s fat and ugly.”
And that was pretty well the mentality with us, too. Not too many were overweight, though, I must admit. Probably because of the food, I guess, and the lifestyle that we were living. From my photographs and my memory, there was very few of them that were overweight.
I don’t know whether that says anything or not.
So, Bob was Beryl’s…
Her youngest brother.
So you met through Beryl, did you?
Yes, she evidently sent him a photo of she and I and my sister Millie at the beach in our bathers. So the next time he came on leave he said, “I want to meet Muriel.” So he did and the romance sort of took off like that. And I didn’t think there might be
an ulterior motive in it, but there probably was. For me, I was very flattered to think that he wanted to take me out. I probably read too much into it, than he intended it to be. But besides that I was going out with other guys, too. They were mostly aircrew trainees.
We’d go to these canteen dances. We’d probably go two or three times a week to a dance, so there would be a huge array of people there, too, young servicemen. And nearly all of them smoked, but not in the hall, but by the time you got home all your hair smelt of cigarettes. I didn’t smoke. Beryl did smoke. My other friend Mavis smoked.
They tried to get me to me to smoke but I just couldn’t do it. I said, “I just can’t do it.” They discovered then that because we got a cigarette ration and a chocolate ration, that I would give them my cigarette ration and they would give me their chocolate ration. So they didn’t encourage me to smoke because they wanted my cigarette ration. But I just couldn’t smoke.
My eldest son can’t smoke. We just can’t tolerate it. There’s something in our body that says, “No.” And I didn’t feel like an odd man out, I just felt that it was something I couldn’t do. If they didn’t accept it, it was their problem and not mine. It was a bit of a big thing in the services, everybody was supposed to smoke and if you didn’t
you were a bit of a wimp, and so I was a wimp.
What about with the grog, was that readily available?
That was rationed, I think. For us, no it wasn’t a thing because until you got to be a sergeant you didn’t have access to it on the station, except what you were buying in town.
When I was attached to Pearce, there was quite a night-life that was going on surreptitiously at night and I can remember one night when we were invited down to the tailor’s shop. They evidently had a tailor’s shop there that would alter uniforms or whatever. So the story went around that there was going to be party at
the tailor’s shop and did I want to go. Yes I did. I don’t remember what rank this person was, but he’s evidently not a sergeant. He said, “We’ve got a bottle of beer sunk in the slit trench.” You were supposed to dive into those if an enemy aircraft came on, but they were usually filled up with water
because of the winter storms. So he got this bottle of beer out of the slit trench and took the top off it and took a drink and spat it out and said, “Oh, dirty…,” not a nice four letter word… What somebody had done was open it, drink all the beer out of it, then peed in it, filled it up with urine. So those sort of things went on. But
nobody took any great offence about all this. No, I didn’t drink very much, but when we did go to dances, especially balls at the Embassy, real special occasions… The hotels in Perth closed at nine o’clock then. So if you were going to drink, you had to drink up to nine o’clock and then they were closed. So most of the dances didn’t
start until after nine o’clock because most of the guys would be drinking in the pub and so would the women who wanted to drink. So these two friends of mine said, “Well, come on, we’re going to have a few beers before we go to the dance.” Well, I didn’t like beer very much. They said, “We’ll get it with a lime dash for you, that will be nice.” And so they put all this sickly lime stuff into it and I could tolerate it like that, so I could
drink only two. That was as much as I could drink. And I was never a person that could drink a lot. I would drink so much and then I would be sick. I couldn’t hold any more than that. I really wasn’t much of a drinker. The rank of sergeant and up, a lot of drinking went on because the sergeants had their own mess and the officers had their own mess.
And I think that’s all they did, was drink, and I don’t know what else. Smoke. That was just the activity that they were engaged in. My husband drank to excess, in my opinion, so… Especially on service. It’s pretty lonely if you were stuck out in the bush on a radar station or whatever.
I guess that was just some way of making you feel good. Except for these two friends of mine and I know they didn’t drink to excess, but there weren’t a lot of girls who drank a lot.
So you’re saying at the dances that a lot of the servicemen would turn up already sort of half full…
Probably as much as they could drink by nine o’clock. I think they were restricted more by money than the
ability to hold alcohol because we weren’t highly paid. The Americans had their own canteen, so they had everything. And as I say, I wasn’t going around with Americans except in the last year of the war. And this guy was stationed on our station and I wondered why he was there. He also could play the piano beautifully.
But I wondered why there was an American on our station. But he was there to arrange air travel for US personnel on whatever train was taking off from Guildford. They’d go over to Cocos Island and then over to Ceylon. That was the route over to Australia when Pacific routes were not… Well, they weren’t being flown that way. So there was a lot of activity
at Guildford by different units that were flying from there. There was an RAF transport unit there that had RAF ground staff and RAF flying personnel. There was a huge difference between the two. More than there was between Australian aircrew and Australian ground staff.
I really wasn’t interested in them at all. What else was there? There was a couple of RAAF units that operated from… It was called an OBU, Operational Base Unit. So we weren’t the only ones there, there were several other units as well, which we had no contact with.
So this is after your time at Pearce?
Yeah, after Pearce.
Should we talk about Pearce?
Yes, I was there for six weeks in early 1943. That’s where I learned my trade. The sergeant in charge of stores was so far behind in his work that he wanted six WAAAF stores people
to help him bring his work up to date. One day he said to me, “Go down to the strip and check off this Beaufort bomber,” because it was going to be serviced somewhere other than the station. I said to him, “I can’t do that.” He said, “Have you checked the car schedule?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, you can do that. Go down and find the pilot and do it.”
I thought, “God, this is an operational bomber. What will they think of me? This little WAAAF coming down here to do this. I don’t know anything about planes.” And when I got there, the pilot was waiting for me, he was the same age as me and not much taller than me either. And he had done this a million times before as well. So he didn’t say, “Oh, fancy a girl.” He just said, “Come on, let’s do this.”
And I’d read out the stuff and he would point to it and tick it off, he signed the thing and took it back and that was the biggest surprise of my life because I never would have done that in civilian time. I think 14 Squadron was unserviceable most of the time, or half the planes were. They were always doing this, going backwards and forwards. But such was the complicated system that it had to be checked out.
And then another thing that upset me a bit, I’m not talking about the pilot now, I’m talking about the sergeant. He ended up Federal MP [Member of Parliament] for Stirling, in Perth, so he was quite an intelligent guy, too. He gave me an officer’s cap that was half burnt and a few other belongings and he said, “Now go and type a letter to that boy’s mother.
Pack up those things and send them to her.” I thought, “How will I do that?” I’m looking at this cap, imagining what happened. All the crew was killed; I know that. I haven’t been able to track down where that happened either. I know it did happen because of that. And I’m thinking, “Now, if I was the mother of this boy, what sort of a letter would I
like to receive? I don’t want a letter, but what sort of a letter would make up for the loss of my son?” All those things go through your mind. So I did a draft to start with and handed it back and said, “Is that what you want?” He said, “Yes, that will be all right, now go and type it. And don’t make any mistakes.” So I did that and I never had to do that again, but that was something that upset me a bit, too. But everything
else was just routine stuff. It was just a matter of learning how to do it. Now going back to fighter sector, from that little episode I felt I knew it all. So I didn’t care if I was in charge of the station because I could cope with it, I could do it.
Does that mean that those three chaps you were to replace had already moved on from there?
The flight sergeant was still there. He was still there because he
was exempt from tropical service because he had some stomach complaint. So they just used him around the metropolitan area. But he was married and he had two children and they lived not far from where we worked. They lived in Mount Morley, too. But he was a very nice person. And all the girls knew that he was a bit susceptible to feminine charms and they would say, “Go up and wag your eyelashes at
Flight Sergeant Lockham, he will give you whatever you like.” So, there was a bit of that goes on. We knew that he was harmless, that he wouldn’t break any marriage vows, but he was susceptible to a little bit of charm, a smile, and they knew that, too. He was knowledgeable, he knew his job and he treated us fairly, so to me it was a nice atmosphere.
And then when SO [Staff Officer] Revell came, she was the accountant officer and I believe she came up through the ranks. She was supposed to be one of the most intelligent girls who had joined the air force. Her intelligence test was supposed to be the best ever, but she didn’t mind being in all the jokes. At one stage,
the circle of girls decided we would all take Indian names, we would give ourselves Indian names. I was Lightning, two of the others were something else and SA Revell said, “Well, I want to be in this, too. I’m going to be Laughing Water.” “Okay, you can be Laughing Water.” We knew she would mix in. We weren’t too sure about SA Mathieson, she was the WAAAF officer, she said she wanted
to have an Indian name, too, and she would call herself Drinking Water. So that was just a bit of fun that we had going on the side. Just silly things. I had forgotten all that until I started digging up material for you and I found all these telegrams addressed to me on my 22nd birthday. One of them said, “Have a good day, Pig Face.” Really insulting stuff, but
you weren’t insulted by it. But how I’ve kept them I don’t know. They just got pushed into a box somewhere and I dragged all those out and had a laugh to myself about that. I had forgotten about that.
How long did those Indian names last?
I don’t know. Probably until we got sick of it. The interesting thing to me was that Matheson had decided to come into it, too. Because she was rather a
stiff sort of lady. She had to keep apart I suppose because she had to be the disciplinarian of all of us, whereas Revell could just be a part of the whole thing. That was just some of the undercurrent that was going on. The headquarters staff were very close to one another. If SA Matheson found a girl who was
terribly homesick and was likely to be causing a bit of emotional trouble to herself or to anyone else, she would say, “I’m putting this girl in your room for a couple of weeks, just so you can get her over this homesickness business.” We weren’t women of the world, but we weren’t homesick and we just
were having a lot of fun out of the whole thing. We weren’t lesbians or anything, but if she was crying in the night we would get into bed with her and hold her and stroke her hair or whatever. And we would get them out of their homesickness. They didn’t need to be there any longer than a few days. They realised that there was plenty of support there for them. You didn’t need to be crying about your mother or your father. But WA is a big state
and people came from everywhere, so it was a long way from home. And for some of the girls homesickness was a big issue. It never was with me and it never was with Beryl or all the other girls that were in headquarters staff. There was one girl there, Poppy, she’s dead too now, but Poppy would tell jokes and keep us amused
until about two o’clock in the morning, but she could never get up the next day then and she’d have all of us gasping for breath, so we could get on with our jobs. So one morning, she still wouldn’t wake up. We called her and she still wouldn’t wake up. So I got the Nugget and I painted a little moustache on her like that. And when she got up she couldn’t understand why everyone was laughing at her, until she had a look
at herself in the mirror. And that was hard stuff to get off, too. But that was the only way we could pay her back because she really was a funny girl. Beryl brought a geranium in a pot on one of her expeditions here, there or wherever. So this pot of poor old geraniums got stuck on the window sill and we called that Ragged Robin.
Poor old Ragged Robin got dropped on the floor so many times, he lost his earth and struggled on, but geraniums were very forgiving and this thing would bloom. I don’t know what else we did. A lot of it can only be explained by the background of it.
Washing was another thing that was a big part of our lives because we were issued with two blue shirts. So to wear a clean shirt every day you were forever washing and ironing. There was an iron in the laundry, but it was always useless because it was always broken. It never got fixed in time. So we all brought our own irons, so it was just yours.
The way we used to do our drab clothing, it was a khaki shirt, short sleeved shirt, buttoned up with two pockets across the breast part that we had to have an identification card in and your leave pass or whatever, so everything stuck out like that. And we all looked like a lot of pigeons with big breasts because of all this stuff we had to have in the pockets.
We’d wash them and then to iron them we’d get a little nail brush and we’d have a saucer with two bits of Silver Star starch in it, the way we used to starch things, dissolve it in cold water, dip this nail brush in it, spread it along the skirt and iron it quickly and it would come up lovely and stiff and shiny. But it paid havoc with the irons because it put a crust on the bottom of the iron.
So we were forever scrapping that off and dropping them on the cement, I suppose. The boys, some of the ground staff who could mend irons, they would charge you for it, but that was one of the ‘foreigners’ – that was what we called stuff that they used to do outside their duties. So you’d look up a guy to keep the iron mended for you and he was forever mending irons because of the way that we used to iron our clothes.
But we thought they looked good like that and they didn’t crease so much when you sat down. It wasn’t just a piece of wet rag, it looked as though it was happy about what it was doing. Whether we had two skirts… We had two shirts, khaki shirts and in a place like Perth you are forever changing your clothes. So that
took up a large part of our off duty hours. The laundries were equipped with gas coppers, no wringers or anything, so you had to wring out by hand. We didn’t have sheets. We had to sleep between those coarse air force blankets. I couldn’t remember whether we had pillows or not, but one of those photos out there, there is just the end of a pillow there, so
that settles that query for me. We did have pillows. But whether pillow slips were on issue, or whether we had our own, I can’t remember. It was very spartan, but as I said, we realised why it was like that. And we moaned about it and carried on, but basically we thought that it was okay. You measured that against
why you’re doing it and what other people are putting up with. So all these beautiful newsreels that came back from Kokoda, of Damien Parer [war cameraman], we saw all those and we thought, “How can we grizzle about what is happening to us?” I think women in the trade unions used to worry about how little pay we had. They were trying to fight all these
fights for us and nobody really cared about how much money they were getting. I personally would have done it for nothing, just for food and lodging. That’s just how I felt about it. But for the women, you didn’t get full pay until you were twenty-one. So you went in at eighteen, you had to wait until you were twenty-one, or you had served one year in the air force before you would go up to full pay. I don’t think anybody worried about that,
except women outside the services who thought it wasn’t fair. But as I said, for the remainder of 1942, 1943, they were really perilous days for us. And we just measured what we were doing against why we were doing it. Or maybe you didn’t think about it at all. I thought about it and I made the equation
that I was privileged to be doing that
You spoke about it briefly, but did you know much about what was going on with Darwin? And then you mentioned Broome as well. Was there any reporting of that in ’42?
Well, as I said, we did hear about it. I wasn’t in the air force when that started; I was still in the country, although I came to town quite often. But no, it was all on the grapevine. The papers were censored.
They were only allowed to say so much. They didn’t want people to know about it, especially Darwin. Because there were rumours that some of the servicemen had run away. But who wouldn’t? The general population of WA knew there were more casualties than what they were saying in the paper – we knew that wasn’t true. But we really
didn’t know how many. As far as I know there were no reporters there. Their information was coming second hand, too, and people exaggerate and people underestimate. In many cases, the truth hasn’t come out until, say, thirty years later when the papers have been released from bond, or whatever they do with them.
That’s still a murky area in Australia’s history and thirty years is a long time, that’s over a generation. So service people themselves mainly wanted to forget about it and get on with their lives. Especially the men. The women seemed to think we really weren’t treated as though we were important to anything.
And I honestly feel that due consideration to what women did in the services has not been recognised. Most of us feel like that. We don’t really know how we should be recognised. But Paul Keating [Australian Prime Minister] was the first to offer anything in way of recognition, but we still had to pay our own fare to Canberra to take part in that. And now we’re all dying. We’d all have to be around eighty,
or over eighty. A lot of my friends are dead; a lot of them have got something wrong with them. Those who smoked, most of them have got emphysema or lung cancer. And I think most women now, just to have been a part of that and to be friends, we’ve all tried to stay together and keep in touch and help one another like that.
And our war service has proved to us that we can do something. For me it was a complete role reversal for my husband, which I felt badly cheated about when it happened, but I had a lot of confidence in myself that I knew I could do certain things without him interfering. And I was then in charge, so if you’re in that position you can make
better decisions, without someone questioning what you’re doing. And I found that managing money was not the great big deal that he was making it out to be. And I think most women find that. You don’t have the chance unless you work it out between each other that you will do this and you will do that.
Do you think at the time, or during your service, that women such as yourself were given due credit at the time?
The only way I could judge that was how we were accepted, and we were accepted. It was very rare to find, say, a CO who was anti-WAAAF. Most of them were quite happy with what you were doing. If you did your job, they respected you for that. And I suppose if they didn’t like you, they could have you moved.
You could be shifted, posted anywhere, at the drop of a hat. And all you took was your case and your kitbag and you had to be ready to move at any time. Go where you were told. I don’t think many of us liked being told to do things that we thought was beneath our dignity, but I didn’t find that at all. I found total acceptance. And especially with the men with whom I was working.
They respected the fact that I could do my job and they were happy about that. I just think that the fact that we were accepted and that we fitted in very quickly was a big surprise. Because somehow or other, being in the services was the boys’ area and to think that young girls could come in and do it very quickly was a bit…
It undermined their dignity a bit; it wasn’t theirs any longer. And some of the girls, I think, who were top grade stenographers and girls who were telegraphists and were doing those jobs were doing them extremely well because they were well trained. And apparently we were easy to train. Which we thought… “Well, it was nice to know, but why didn’t you tell us that right in the beginning?” I think there was still a bit
of a culture where men looked down on women. But I don’t think that happened in the services. Other girls might tell you something different because their experiences would be something different. What you did was determined more by the unit that you were in or the station that you were at. As far as stores were concerned, I had very little to do with aircraft maintenance.
Other girls were on stations where they had whole airframes at the back and they were dealing with all that sort of stuff. One thing I remember, when we went out to Guildford, which was the end of 1944 and all through 1945, Jurian Bay and Yanchep radar stations were under my jurisdiction. I had to order the stuff for them. And that was
the first time that I saw what they called the cathode-ray tube, which was the picture tube and later part of TV [television]. It was a big thing like that and it was in a wooden frame and held in place with springs, so during transport it would go just gently up and down. And they were only allowed two of those, one in the set and one spare. And we often had the occasion where they would ring up
and say, “I’ve got the spare on. I need another one. Get another one up here quickly.” So I would then ring 4SD and give them the next voucher number and say, “Get that on a transport as quickly as you can to Jurian Bay or wherever it had to go.” And we would let the paperwork catch up later on. They would ring me back and say, “Yes, I’ve got it.” So, I felt proud that I had my own little
lifeline going, where I could get things quickly to people who needed them. But you needed to have somebody in that stores depot who you could deal with personally because the paperwork was very important. Because I think the finance for all this was being supervised by the finance department, which was civilian. So
if you weren’t paying for it, you had to account for it. Like these tea towels, I hadn’t been able to cover that area. Someone down there who signed for it would have to pay for forty tea towels. I don’t know what they did with them, whether they took them home or what they did. But I just thought it was… You just try and keep the whole system going, like keeping a car going, regular services.
You just had to keep it going. But you had to know how to do it, I suppose. I really would have liked to have joined as a fabric worker and mended planes or packed parachutes and all those things. I did have a friend who joined as a fabric worker and I said, “Well, what did you have to do? Did you have to pack ’chutes?”
She said, “Yes, but they never ever got used.” And I never ever thought of that. She only ever packed half a dozen ’chutes because they were never used. And you don’t think of things like that. You think that you would have to be doing it all the time. I learnt a lot in my civilian life, reading about what’s happened and finding out the reason why things happened. And that’s probably given me
more pleasure than having actually been in the services, but that’s, I guess, where my interest in that started because I wanted to know what was going on, but they were not allowed to say.
You mentioned Guildford and then Jurian Bay and places like that. So were you based at Mount Lawley right up until that time?
Yes. Except the attachment to Pearce. But being
attached to Pearce meant that I was still part of Fighter Sector Headquarters, but they had had a loan of us. The WAAAF were not supposed to be working in squadrons, so the way they got over that was the same as it was with me and the other five girls. They attached us to Pearce and when we got to Pearce they said, “You’ve got to go down to 14 Squadron.” So that was all under the lap business.
But it was allowable.
You said by the time you got back the routine was down pat, what was the routine?
For me at fighter sector? It was very mundane after working in a squadron. The only excitement came was in early 1944, when this big flap business started. It was early in March.
Interviewee: Muriel Horsfall Archive ID 1694 Tape 07
There was a big flap in Fremantle back in March 1944. What was that all about?
It was early in March 1944 when we thought that the war was moving away from us, so it came as a bit of a shock,
actually, to be called into the CO’s office and he said, “Corporal Hodgkin, I want you to order in,” he gave me a number, “I want you to order in X amount of steel helmets and gas masks. I want you to get them today and I want you to issue them to every person on personnel today.” He said, “I can’t tell you why. I just want you to do it.”
So I did. I rang through on my line of communication to 4 Stores, told them what I wanted, the amount, and said, “They’ve got to be here after lunch.” And they were there. This great big truck pulled up with all this stuff being off-loaded. Heavens knows what the neighbours thought. They would see all this going on but they wouldn’t know why. So I stayed at work until I had issued all these steel helmets and gas masks to everyone.
All leave was cancelled for fighter sector. The girls on shift work had to work three full shifts over the twenty-four hours. They were not allowed to take a break and sleep, as they normally were. We had to carry these gas masks and steel helmets at all times. All leave was cancelled. So it sounded really serious. So one of my friends in control room,
I said, “What plots are showing up on the table?” She said, “Nothing.” I thought, “Oh yeah, this is all part of the secrets business. She’s not tell me because she is not allowed to say.” And the US submarines that were in port under repairs, they all had to put to sea. A transport squadron from over east was sent back over there, over to Perth.
A Spitfire squadron from Darwin was re-routed to Perth and had to operate there, be ready to operate. Various branches of the army were shipped back over there. This lasted for a week. And after that week had finished it all sort of relaxed a little bit, but nobody knew why it was happening.
The telephonist on duty had been told to stay on duty and not leave under any circumstances; they just had to stay there. All this sort of then dissipated and we wondered what had happened. Nobody was told. Nobody knew. And that stuck in my mind for years. It must have been thirty years afterwards that I eventually got some information
from an American book that covered all operations in the Pacific of US submarines and they mentioned that incident. And it was just that this large section of the Japanese navy that was stationed in Singapore had put to sea. And the US submarine that picked up radar blips and couldn’t identify them and they just disappeared off the screen.
In his mind was this slogan, ‘Remember Pearl Harbor’. He just did not know whether to report it or not, so he thought that he had better. He didn’t want such as this intelligence stuff that is going on now; he didn’t want to not report it in case it was terribly important. But he didn’t have a lot to report. So thirty or more years later when I read this book, Silent Victory, I thought
the section devoted to that flap sounded the most credible to me, but really nothing happened. But it did tie in with a US air strike on Truk, which during the Pacific war the Japanese had made a main naval station. They thought that those ships they were
bringing out of Singapore they would take back to Truck and reinforce that area. It was really nothing, but everybody was too afraid not to act on it in case it really was of great importance. We really didn’t know what Japan was capable of. We thought they could be doing that. It could have been a last-minute strike. They only had to send
one carrier down and bomb Fremantle. That was the most credible story that people had put about. They really didn’t know. It gradually lessened and we were told that we could disuse wearing gas masks and steel helmets and they all went back to 4 Stores Depot and that was the end of that. But I might add, we were not given instruction on how to use that gas mask either.
So we had to go back to rookie days to know how to do that.
But you were issued with the tin hats and the gas masks and you had to have them…
We had to have them slung over your shoulder and they had to be carried at all times until we were told that we didn’t have to have them any more. But it was a time of great uncertainty. Nobody was sure what was going to happen.
They were just making sure that they could cover all emergencies. And here again intelligence comes into the equation. It’s not really the answer to the sum, it’s just a viability, a possibility, it might happen. Because we had more planes and we had more material by then, it was all brought in and put into action.
But it was exciting.
Now you said this kind of emergency was going on for a week. Do you think anything leaked out to the outside world? That is within the city itself?
Well, we’re finding out now that it did because there are various versions of it. Yes, people noticed that something was happening around the place. People felt the tension because it was palpable. There was fear and there was tension because, as far as WA was concerned, we thought the Japanese could do anything.
One of the rumours that flew around was that sections of the Japanese Navy had left port at East Timor and they were steaming south. So we thought it was like a final fling for them, that they would bomb Fremantle just to have the last go. But they were still a big question mark at that time. I don’t know where that part of history equates with where the Americans were in the Pacific.
It’s easy to check up, but I can’t recall at this time. They moved fairly quickly, but they were very bloody battles they fought for each one of these islands, too. That is something I need to find out. My son would know, he’s got a wonderfully retentive memory, but I don’t need to keep that in my mind,
so provided I know where to look for the information, that satisfies me. Unless somebody really wants to know, and then, given time… But then only my family is interested in what I’m writing, nobody else seems to care. So I’m just doing it because I’m old.
I’m sure it will be very useful to people.
There’s just a few other things about that time, about that particular incident. You were confined to the station during that time, is that right?
Well, it was fairly scattered about the suburbs of Mount Lawley. You could go to the mess, which was down there near
Mount Lawley village. Our quarters were further back, so we could still go backwards and forwards to those places. We were not supposed to go into town. We were supposed to be there on call.
You mentioned the conversations?
We all talked about it. We all wanted to know what was happening. So the girls that were on shift in the control room, they didn’t know either. There was nothing to plot. There was nothing
coming in for them to track. And that was… Why all the fuss? There was no plots showing up on the control table. That’s why I thought they were telling me lies. They were being very secret, I thought. But no, they were telling the truth. There was nothing. We couldn’t accept it as nothing. There was too much high-level activity going on. There must have been some reason for this and what was the reason?
Why were they so cautious about what they were doing? I think you would have to check back with the West Australian newspapers what they were saying, but I can’t remember off hand, whether it was in the paper or not because I was more concerned about… I felt I was in the middle of it and if I didn’t know, who did know? The girls weren’t saying anything. They just knew that they had to
work a full shift. Because nothing was showing up, there was nothing to report.
Do you remember how many gas masks and tin hats you had to order?
No, but I’ve got it on a pad over there probably how many were on the station. I just can’t tell you accurately and I wouldn’t just say a number without having something to back it up.
I really don’t remember issuing the things, but I know I did it because that was my job to do that.
But you had to order them in…
Yes, he told me the number and said, “Have them here today. I can’t tell you why. Just do it.”
Where would you have ordered them from?
4 Stores Depot, that was Maylands, that was… Perth is not a very big city so they were all within half an hour’s driving.
Their big truck was there in the afternoon. They did as they were told, too. They just acted on what I had told them. I had given them the next voucher number and that was all they wanted. And I quoted the number and what I wanted and they were there.
There didn’t have to be a discussion about it?
No. I identified myself as, “Corporal Hodgkin here, from 6 Fighter Sector.
The CO has told me to do this and he wants them here today, preferably after lunch.” So they knew that something was happening, so they just did it, sent it all over and the paperwork caught up later, after that. Because as long as they had the next number, that’s all they really needed. That was their authority to issue it.
There was so much paperwork. There was so much involved. That’s the bit that you had to learn. All the numbers were there. It was just the next number, I had to write out the voucher, there was about five copies of that. Somebody got this, somebody else got one, so you just sent all that out as part of the whole deal. But all they wanted to issue the things
was that voucher number. He had to trust me that I would send that paperwork on, so he had the authority to issue all that stuff. But 4 Stores Depot was the main issuing depot for WA. They had huge stocks of whatever. Clothing, aircraft spares and all sorts of things. Radio equipment.
But some of it was in short supply, so therefore you had to stick to the rules and have only two things, one in the machine and one spare. They were the rules. The only way you could break it was… I don’t know. Think up something fictitious. Not like my tea towels bit. That technical equipment was in short supply
and that kept the whole thing going, so that was very important.
And did you actually hand these items out to the staff?
Yes, everybody. I had to stay at work until everybody received a gas mask and a steel helmet that day. And if they came on duty later on in the night, they had to come up to me to get it and I had to be there to issue it.
Do you remember their reaction?
They just accepted it. If you were told to do it, there was a reason. And they knew by the tension that was in the control room. Everybody was on full alert. We were just waiting for something to happen and nothing happened. That was a real mystery to me because I liked to know the reason why,
and that sort of stuck in my brain forever. Will I ever find out the reason why? When the Americans actually break their silence on intelligence, say thirty years after the cessation of World War II, they released a lot of this information. The Brits wouldn’t. They didn’t want to do that. They’ve been much more intelligence oriented than the Americans. Mainly because they’re not as
impatient. And it’s just part of the British scene, intelligence. It goes right back to Queen Elizabeth I, I think she started it. With her Walsingham [Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham], he’s the one who took it on from her, for her. And it’s been part of their military code forever.
And the Americans had to come in and they’ve taken over now, but they’re very impatient as far as results are concerned. That’s my opinion and probably a lot of other people, too. But just finding out the reason why has given me a lot of satisfaction. Every one that has appeared that I think is credible; I will keep a copy of it.
But radar operators and different other people have a different version. They’re sure that they’ve heard oriental voices picked up on their radar machines, or they’ve seen blips that have not been accounted for. So there is still a little folklore going with all that. I’ve heard lots of versions of it,
and I think, “Well, I don’t know if that fits in with what I think, but who am I to think that that’s the total story?”
Were you very inquisitive, or did you allow yourself to be inquisitive?
I’m very inquisitive, that’s why I kept asking, “What’s showing up on the table?” And they were saying, “Nothing,” and I just didn’t believe them because of the amount of security and activity that was going on about it,
I just couldn’t believe it was nothing. It had to be something. It had to have started somewhere. And when it all fizzled out, you felt as though you were left high and dry, just wasn’t enough. There wasn’t any closure on it. That word wasn’t in operation then. It just wasn’t satisfactory to me.
It was like an itch that you had to scratch away at and find out why. So I think that has taught me and my eldest son to quote the source for everything, although I wasn’t very strict about all that because I didn’t know how to do it. Now I do know how to do it. And I’m looking for people and if they tell me something, I want to know where they’re
quoting that from. That episode has coloured the way I think a lot because I wanted to know the reason why, and, “You tell me your source for that.”
When you say it fizzled out, was it suddenly you were giving back your gas masks?
I was told by my CO
that I could take them back and send them back to 4 Store, but he wouldn’t tell me why. But I wasn’t game to ask him why. That was an order and I had to do it, that was my job to do that. And all the girls were saying, “Nothing happened and we don’t know why either.” And they wanted to know.
And what about around town? You said there was a Spitfire squadron that had flown in…
From my point of view, I didn’t care what anybody else thought because I couldn’t say… I couldn’t even tell my own mother that nothing had shown up in the operations room because that was a secret and I wasn’t allowed to talk about that. It did just fizzle out. But for me, it ended with the CO saying that, “You can now take all that equipment back and send it back to 4 Store.” But he didn’t tell me why.
And I just had to accept that. And everybody else just had to. Like the telephone operator, she didn’t know why. She was just told that nothing happened.
So there were a lot of rumours?
Yes and there still are. Every time that is mentioned, they give their own version of it.
“Oh, no, that’s not how I saw it.” It’s a bit like looking for weapons of mass destruction. It’s a story, but where’s the authority for it and how do you know that. And because us service people are now getting old, nobody wants to believe it anyway. “Oh, you imagined it.” Or, “You’ve made up that story.” But
world events have overtaken all these things. They just happen so fast these days that there’s no time to worry about that. Even the girls that were at sec [flight sector], they’ve probably forgotten about it because nothing happened. So they’ve forgotten about it. But just for me, I was probably involved a bit more in what I was doing. There had to be a reason for it and I couldn’t find the reason
until I read, subsequently, these books that have explained it to me in a credible way. But you’ve got to seek out this information. It’s stuck right in the middle of a thousand-page book. And if you can get hold of that information… That’s another problem, finding your source for all this.
What was security like in the city, in Perth, during that time?
Nothing more than… They didn’t alert the population. There was one air-raid warning, I think, and we all had to get in the trenches and whatever. But I think that turned out to be a Catalina off course, too.
But the people accepted that. We thought, “This is it.” But it turned out to be false alarm, too. So there was no… It just seemed to all happen without a reason. People just forgot about it and got on with their work, which was decreasing then anyway because the action was moving away from us.
But even just around… Not necessarily around the time of that emergency, but generally in Perth, how much of a police presence… I know there was a big military presence there, but what I’m thinking of is the way that the city was policed in that time?
From my point of view, it was just all normal because if the servicemen
played up or caused trouble, their own service police came in and took charge. The American service police were more brutal than our service police. They walked around with clubs. If their service people were involved in a fight or whatever with civilians or servicemen or whatever, they got a nice good club over the head and were carted off. They really were very brutal with their personnel.
They dish out very strict sentences for people that disobey. They cared for their own service people. They weren’t involved with our servicemen at all. “You’ve got your own service police. We will deal with our submariners.”
But the civilian police, I don’t know if they were in on it or not. I just don’t know. I only know it from my point of view. I wasn’t interested in what happened as far as Perth was concerned because it was happening in our sector.
I’m talking more generally now. But I realise now you were enclosed during that emergency time.
I was just wondering if there was tension on the street because of the Military Police that were around?
Because all our leave was stopped, I wasn’t in Perth during that period. We were all confined to barracks. That was an on your honour thing because our
housing was quite scattered in amongst the general community. I think the only disturbing thing for the civilian population was that one air-raid warning. And then when the all clear went, everyone just gets on with what they have to do.
Was that air raid around the same time as the suspected Japanese attack?
There was only that one air-raid warning, as I say, and I think it was a Catalina off course. So when it identified itself, the air-raid warning then returned to green. They don’t issue statements to say why things are done. It’s war-time rules and the
whole population just has to recognise that.
Now when you went up to Guildford… Do you remember when that was?
That was the end of 1944 and all of 1945. The first people out there were…
Now there was an RAAF presence there. There was an air force station there, right from the beginning, I suppose, of the war. But our station only moved out there after a state-of-the-art sector was built, very late in the war. And this state-of-the-art place was built so that it was half into the hillside. A bit like the new Canberra
building, the new political building there. So that was really more than what was needed. It turned out to be too late for all that to be happening because the war had moved away from us and there wasn’t very much to report. But the living quarters for us were very crude. They were
much the same as Victor Harbour, out in the bush with wooden and asbestos from there up to the roof, unlined and full of spiders and creepy-crawlies and all those sorts of things. In fact, when a Salvation Army welfare lady came out to see how we were living, she was appalled. She said, “I think it’s disgusting that
you girls have to live like this at this stage of the war.” And there was no sewing machine there; there was no curtains in the rec [recreation] room. It was so Spartan it was almost unreal and she was just totally disgusted with the whole thing. She got a sewing machine for us
and she got some material so we could make curtains for the windows in the rec room. It didn’t do very much for us because there was no station life, except for maybe a dance now and then. It was nothing like Pearce, which was a permanent station. So after the war ended, all those things were torn down. And coming from the lovely quarters
that we had at Mount Lawley to that awful place, and having to tramp through the bush to catch a bus into town, we felt terribly deprived, actually, because we had been living in such nice living quarters. The first meal in the mess, the headquarters staff went first, so there was about six of us, I suppose. And the airmen’s mess was a long hut, with men eating up that end,
and this end was for the girls. I think it was a lunch time, so we walked in there and went through the mess queue and got our food and sat down and looked down there and there’s all these guys looking at us. We thought, “We’ve been in the service long enough now for you lot not to stare like that.” This young man came up to us with his hands behind his back and said,
“We would just like to welcome you girls here and hope that you will be very happy here.” And he took his hands from behind his back and put a great big goanna on the table, that he had tied up with a piece of string so that it wouldn’t get away. So all this mob down here knew that was going to happen. So six big screams let up from the table and we rushed up over to the wall, it was just an immediate reaction. These guys were laughing their heads off because they knew that was going to happen.
So that was our introduction to Jurian, as it was called. It was just a bit further from Guildford. But it was all very Spartan. I just thought, “I don’t like this.”
So there were six of you?
To start with, until the operation staff, too, were transferred out there and that new
building was operational, then it still worked on three shifts a day. But the girls who were working in the operation room, they knew more about it than I do. There were still a lot of fighter sector girls left in Perth.
Were you the only women at that time?
There was a medical staff there. I think there were telephone operators there, but they were attached to OBU, which was the Operational Base Unit. And they had a dental section there, so they would have had a WAAAF dental nurse and telephone operators. There may have been
WAAAF cooks there and stewardesses in the different messes, but they were attached to OBU and not to us. So we did some of the paperwork before the rest of the unit came out there.
So when the boys put the goanna on the table, after your initial shock, what did you think? Were you annoyed with them?
We were annoyed at our reaction, to think that we got sucked in so easily. We might have known that something like that would happen. But we hadn’t been used to dealing with so many men en masse because the ones on our station, the girls outnumbered the men, probably by three to one. And to suddenly be confronted by a couple of hundred or more men up there, to have them staring at you, it was a bit of a trial to
just walk in there and sit down at the table, say five or six of us. And for them to do that… We felt we had been caught off guard. We thought we knew it all by then, but they could still do that to us.
What would be good now is to get some more detailed idea of the work. You were supplying radar stations?
I was attached to a radar station for a while, but only for a couple of weeks and that was after the war ended. And all that material that was coming in from the radar stations, we were supposed to check and catalogue it. And there was no way we could do that. It was coming in too fast.
As with Australians, a unit that would be identified as a receiver, by the time they finished it had bits soldered onto it from all over the place. They had adapted the original machine to suit their requirements. So in no way could it be identified in the original description of it.
It became an impossible task; I couldn’t do it. I had a young radar mechanic with me who was supposed to identify stuff so I could record it, but these trucks just kept coming in every couple of hours, loaded up with stuff, and they just pushed it all into this great big hut. And that worried me for a long time. Even after I was married, I worried about not being able to finish my job.
Until this friend of mine, who as I said married this politician, she said, “Well, you want to forget about it because that was all written off.” So I was worrying needlessly about that. But I just felt that that was my job and I should be doing it and it just became an impossibility. You just couldn’t do it.
And then my discharge came through, so… I think the women in the air force were all discharged much too quickly because they hadn’t realised that we were enmeshed so much in the daily running of all the air force units – that they would miss us, which they really did. They were short of medical staff, they were short of clerks, they were short of everybody who
was supposed to be recording things. They put us out too quickly. But the politicians didn’t care about that. They just wanted us out. And I was lucky that I had a job to go to, so…
But prior to the end of the war, when you were supposed to be recording this equipment that was coming back from the radar stations, but had mutated
by the sound of it, what was your role before that, for Guildford?
Just normal stuff. The RAAF was still very busy because in May the war in Europe had finished. So a lot of our aircrew that had been operating in Bomber Command, those that were left came back
and we had several posted to our station. And I wanted to know everything that they had done. What was it like? What had they been doing? Their clothing cards I had to take care of. One young man that was sent back, we knew that he had been shot down and that he was probably the only survivor of that crew and he had got back through the French underground.
So I wanted to know about that. He was a very quiet young man. He looked as though he was about sixteen; he had such a baby face. But he had done a tour, which is thirty flights, over Germany, or thereabouts. He came up and said, “If my clothing card comes from England, there’s about twenty-eight blankets on it.” I said, “How many have you got?”
He said, “I’ve only got the four that I’ve been issued with here.” I said, “Well, when it comes through I will let you know.” So the clothing card came through with no identifying papers at all. It just came from England in an envelope and that was it. So I called him and said, “Your clothing card has arrived.” He said, “Well, have I got twenty-eight blankets on it?” And I said, “No, but you’ve got more than four.”
And I don’t know whether I was supposed to say these things or not either, but I thought, “There’s no documentation with this, so nobody knows whether it has come from England or not.” So as far as I know, that clothing card disappeared. So he only had the one that we had drawn up for him on our station. In my mind, he was a hero,
an absolute hero. Who’s going to worry about twenty-eight blankets? He didn’t have twenty-eight. That was just it. I thought, “He had does done more… He has paid his country back more than what twenty-eight blankets are worth.” Sometimes you made a value judgment about things and if the rules weren’t there for you to comply with, well, who knew?
Interviewee: Muriel Horsfall Archive ID 1694 Tape 08
It was my job to supply what they asked for. I hadn’t visited them so I didn’t really know what they looked like. I just knew that around the coast of WA they were just shoved amongst the sandhills and they were very inconspicuous. They blended in with the scenery and
their living conditions were much like ours. They were portable things that kept the rain out. But they were all highly technical people. And radar at that stage was very hush-hush. You were not allowed to talk about it. So my relationship with the radar mechanics was just to supply
what they had asked for. But because of the restrictions on the amount of equipment that they could keep on hand, it had to get to them as quickly as possible. In the case of those two stations, it was by road transport. So when I would ring 4 Stores Depot for whatever it was they were asking for, I just had
to trust that they would do it and send it off. By them I mean the radar mechanics. I didn’t need them to ring me back and say, “Yes, I’ve got it.” I assumed they had because if it hadn’t arrived they would let me know. So from my point of view, once I advised 4 Stores what I wanted, to me that was the end of it because it was then their job to send it on.
Were there ever any problems with getting parts?
No, only if something major like the picture tube, if they had blown two in one day. That would be a major problem. But that didn’t happen. I was able to keep them supplied with just that little connection that I had established myself with 4 Stores Depot
and for them to get the transport and for them to get it up there as quickly as they could. But at this time in the war, I’m talking about 1945, so probably the urgency wasn’t as grave as it would have been early in the piece because there wasn’t all that much enemy activity around the West Australian coast at that stage. And aircraft identification, they would know through their connection
with sector whether it was friendly or foes. So, they were there, I guess, as a routine. They had to stay there until the war had ended. But certainly when the Pacific war ended they were dismantled immediately and that stuff was sent in immediately. There was no more use for it.
Did you ever come across any scams going on?
No, not as far as radar people were concerned. I think up in the islands men did lots of foreigners because they were bored to tears. If nothing was happening, they would make things out of discarded stuff. We had bracelets and stuff that the boys would bring back from Kiriwina. And all those lovely pearl stuff,
they would make bracelets out of them and sell them. But very little. And what there was I felt didn’t matter anyway. They weren’t ripping off the government in any way. It was probably surplus stuff or stuff they couldn’t use. From my point of view, I didn’t find anything irregular going on. If it was,
it was not noticeable by me, anyhow. People weren’t thieving out of the stores, simply because it had to be accountable and there was all these checks every now and again. Everything had to be accountable, except C Class stuff. Toilet paper and soap and stuff like that. Everything else had to be accounted for.
I’m not saying it didn’t happen, I’m saying I didn’t know about it.
So you were not aware of any pilfering that went on during your…?
No, they had nothing to thieve from me anyway because the stuff wasn’t there to steal. And I don’t know what the mechanics did with stuff. I just don’t know. It was all such technical stuff. For me it was accounted for.
What they did with it when they got it, I didn’t care about anyway. If they made radios to sell, that was their business, not mine. But I never heard about it. I didn’t know. And the girls just weren’t into that. We did our job. All we were looking forward to was going into town and going to the dance that night, or whatever.
Talking of dances, the Rendezvous Club, can you tell us about that?
It was a little club that was started in town by a singer called Mel Shortland Jones. She was well known around Perth and WA as a singer and she started this little club. It was open to air force personnel of all nationalities, but it was mainly RAAF people that went there. And she served,
I think, cool drinks and sandwiches. I can’t really remember about the food bit. Somebody else has told me what they used to get. Whether they paid for it or not, I don’t know. But I liked going there because it had a bit more tone attached to it than the canteen dances that everyone was welcome to. So it was a bit of a snob thing I suppose, as far as air force goes.
And for me, that’s where I met a lot of my air force friends, too. We couldn’t sleep there or do anything like that. It was purely an entertainment venue. They had civilian hostesses there. But if on occasion they had air force convoys going through, they would ring up and say, “Send in as many WAAAF
as are off duty. We desperately need people to dance with these boys.” And that’s how it operated. So, as far as the air force was concerned, you could come and go as you please. But in uniform. I wouldn’t go in civilian dress there. I would go to the other canteens and other dances in civilian clothing. But never to the Rendezvous [Club] because I think
the hostesses had to have some identification with them.
What would the hostesses do?
Just dance. Just be there for the boys to dance with.
Was it live music?
Yes, she had a band and she would sing. Yes, it was live music. It was nothing to go in, it was free. As far as I know, her band was given free.
There was no charge about it; she just did it as part of her war effort. So it was nice and clean. There were no fights there, no alcohol. So it was just a bit more toney than the other venues where just anyone could go to.
There was one place where we could stay. It was up in West Perth, which was in walking distance of the city and it was called the Sportsman Lodge. And that had been furnished and made available to ex-servicewomen to stay overnight, or a couple of nights, if they wanted to. But that was on a first in, first served basis. They wouldn’t reserve a bed for you.
They were still like air force stretchers, but they had a different sort of a mattress on them and sheets and pillows with a pillow slip on it. Tea and coffee was available there and big tins of biscuits. And there was a big old wooden stove thing where you could cook a meal if you wanted to. But that was all paid for and sponsored by The Sportsmen’s Association of WA. So that was very welcome.
We did stay there lots of times. If I got there before Millie, I would say, “My sister is coming soon. Can she have the bed next to me?” And they’d say, “Well, you’re not supposed to do this, but you put something on the bed, yes.” So they would book it for her and she would do it for me. But here again, no men were allowed into that venue. So that was the big area that I thought should have been available to us.
There should have been somewhere where we could meet men friends and just talk to them. But somehow or other that seemed to be a problem that they didn’t want to front. The problem again seemed to be that they thought we would all jump into bed together and get ourselves pregnant and whatever. It just seemed to me to be silly.
But that’s what you’d do at places like the Rendezvous Club. You’d do that, wouldn’t you?
No, you could only dance there. The Rendezvous Club was a dancing venue. The Sportsmen’s Association was a residence that we could stay at. It was a big old two-storey Victorian House, opposite Kings Park, close to the city. We didn’t pay anything to stay there either. We stayed free of charge.
Do you remember a club called the Coolabah Club?
Not in Perth. There were a couple of clubs in town. But they were run as a viable entertainment venue. No drink was allowed, but people used to take in gin because that couldn’t be identified.
They didn’t know whether that was water. They would bring it in, in lemonade bottles. The people who went there were mainly high ranking Americans and high ranking… later on English captains and officers.
The Americans used to have a lot, but they were only dancing venues. They didn’t serve food as far as I can remember. They were civilian operations, even though their clientele was mostly service. I think they started up to meet that demand because they hadn’t been a part of the night life of Perth, as far as I can remember.
But I was only a little country girl, so I wasn’t familiar with all these things.
So you didn’t go to these clubs?
There was one, I think it was called the Manalah Club. I did go there with an American officer that I met at one of the dances at the Embassy. I was there in my white royal dress that I had made and I had embroidered
flowers and leaves and things over the top of it. And the culture there was, if you didn’t go with a partner you just stayed at the top of the ballroom here and the boys would come along and pick you out and dance with you and so forth. This particular night I thought I had died and gone to heaven. This gorgeous submarine officer who looked like Richard Gere [American actor]
from that movie about officers and gentlemen [An Officer and a Gentleman]. “Would I like to dance?” “Oh yes.” And he could dance, too. Most of the Americans were pretty awful dancers. So he asked me out. “Are there are any clubs to go out to?” I mentioned the Manalah Club and he said would I go with him and I said, “Yes.” So he nominated the night and where we would meet.
So there was great excitement when I went back to Mount Lawley and told Beryl and the other girls what had happened. “Oh, what will you wear?” And I said, “I don’t know.” So I wore Beryl’s dress. She had a pretty dusky pink desk with white polka dots on it. So I wore her dress and my shoes and somebody else’s something else. That’s how we dressed ourselves. But I don’t know what happened to him; I didn’t see him any more either.
I don’t know if he went out on a mission or whatever. I didn’t ask him what submarine he was on. He said that he had just arrived in Perth and did I live in Perth. I said, “No.” That’s what they wanted, someone who lived in Perth so they could go home and have a home-cooked meal. Something like that, that was what they were after. He was one of my
romantic cameos that I’ve written about in my story because that was so out of the ordinary for me. I said to my sister, “I always remember wearing that white dress. And whenever I wore that white dress I didn’t miss a dance.” She said, “Yes, probably because they could see through it.” I said, “Well, they could not.”
Because the top of it was double royal and I wore two petticoats underneath it.
So that was her idea of it. But we discussed us amongst us what happened. And there was an unwritten law that if three or four of us went off to a dance and somebody was asked by somebody nice if they could take them home or go for supper afterwards, you were allowed to say yes without the rest of them getting upset about it. So that was one rule that we observed, too.
So if somebody really nice turned up… Anyone we didn’t want to go home with, if they asked us, we’d say we lived at Kalamunda, which was like saying you lived at Belgrade. They didn’t have transport that far. So that was a nice way of getting rid of someone you didn’t fancy. But it was really easy
having so many boyfriends going all at once because they came from everywhere and they had limited time, too. It was like the fast lane. I had never seen so many boys my own age in my whole life. For that part, it was really nice. But then when you think that all that was played out against
against this background of unspeakable brutality, it brought home to you why they were there. That was the backdrop to everything. We realised it wasn’t normal times. When I think back on it, I was very privileged to live in those times. I was very proud to serve in the air force and I’m still very proud of having done that.
And I’m still interested in the air force. I was very proud to see the way the air force reacted to the bombing in Bali. When I saw those planes take off with all the equipment with them, I felt that I knew how that had all came together. I thought they reacted so quickly and so efficiently. I think I probably cried when I saw that happen because I just felt, “Yes,
that’s how it should happen.” When they offloaded all those people in Darwin, I thought, “That is one of your activities that you should be doing.” And everyone involved in that was highly trained and they knew how to react. So my interest in it hasn’t just been the three and a half years that I was in it.
I still feel in some way that I have a connection with it, although the routine is probably quite different to what it was in my day, but I feel that they are well trained and you know that they are working efficiently. And the fact that there are women in it now who are able do things we weren’t allowed to do, fly planes and whatever,
I think that yes, that’s something that we helped originate. We were the original ones. We turned out to be, what I call the warrior mothers. Our children had different mothers to perhaps the civilian ones. That was part of the uppity business of it. We feel that we were special.
And I think most of the women think that, although we still call ourselves girls.
Do you remember the POWs [Prisoners of War] coming home?
No, I don’t. But I know this friend of mine who was flying DC7s, or whatever they were called, he had to fly to Singapore to
bring POWs home. And they knew that they wouldn’t have toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shaving cream, all that sort of thing so they loaded up the plane with those because they guessed that that was what they wouldn’t have. As I said before, when the war ended the air force was still very busy because they were bringing home the POWs and doing
all sorts of things. They were still in war mode, even though the war had ended. So it really was a shame that the girls were put out so quickly, too, because we could have been part of that. We were just told to go home and get married and have babies. When we were discharged their interest ended.
So you didn’t have any say in being able to stay on?
I think you could volunteer to, but I don’t know how much weight that carried either. But I didn’t volunteer to do that. For some reason, towards the end of the war, the discipline was upgraded so much in our unit that where we used to just have the sergeant DI, who fraternised with the girls and
didn’t harass you in anyway, we had a DI who came out, who was an under officer, equal to a sergeant major, and she started to throw her weight around and do what we called ‘silly with the service’, trying to enforce all stupid rules. I thought, “Why all this now the war has ended? Why all this adherence to rules and regulations?”
I couldn’t get out fast enough, I thought that was crazy. And also the unit was disintegrating inasmuch as people were being discharged quickly and there seemed to be no reason to be there. The reason had gone. And for me, I just wanted then to be a working girl. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. Have no rules and regulations.
But prior to that, I was happy to adhere to most of their rules because as I said, to me they were easier than my father’s rules. The rules that we disobeyed were the ones that we felt need not be there, like the rule about wearing your stockings inside out and ironing pleats into jackets and all that nonsense. We thought that was over the top.
And I think, as is the rule, women officers are harder on the women than what men officers are. And that seems to come over in civilian life, bowling clubs and whatever. They all get silly with the service and try to enforce stupid rules. So I was happy then to get out. I felt that I had done what I set out to do. I felt I had done it efficiently,
except for being able to catalogue that material that came in after the war. I wanted to get on with things and I was not at this stage in love with Bill, so I didn’t want to get married. Although most of the men that came back from overseas wanted to get married straight away. I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted to do things at my own rate.
How did you meet Bill again?
In the air force. He was posted to our station in June 1945. So when he turned up, he was really gorgeous. He was tall, good looking; he was just so beautifully clean. And that was part of his whole life, he was always so clean.
Long skinny legs, but he had long trousers on. He never ever wore shorts because of his skinny legs. So when he presented his papers at the orderly room we were all waiting there with our eyes out on sticks. “Who’s this guy?” So he handed in his papers and then when he left there was a mad rush for the orderly room. “Is he married?” “No.” “Is he a Catholic?” Which mattered at that time.
“No.” “What does he do?” “He’s a pay clerk.” “What’s his name?” “Bill Horsfall.” “Oh, what a horrible name! Imagine being Mrs Horsfall!” I didn’t think for one minute that I would be because I wasn’t interested in him except for that initial reaction that we all had. He was very efficient at what he did. He just came in and did his job. But he crossed my path on the second day.
He brought in some voucher thing. He said, “This has come in my mail. But I’ve fixed it up for you, it’s all done and it’s gone back,” in his hoity-toity flight sergeant manner. So I looked at the paper and I said, “Well, you haven’t done it correctly. Now I have to come along behind you and fix up that mistake.” And he told me subsequently that he looked at me and thought, “What a cheeky little girl!”
But he watched me from then on. And I asked him in later life, what did he like about me when he first me? And he said, “Everything. But most of all I loved your lovely little bosoms.” “Oh God, not my brain?” “No.” But he did barge into my life, inasmuch as I didn’t want to go out with him.
One weekend he said to me, “If I was passing the town hall about eight o’clock on Saturday night, will you be there?” I said, “I might be. Thinking about you, I might be on my way to a dance. I might be doing something.” And I thought no more about it. On the Monday morning he said, “You weren’t there.” I said, “I wasn’t there?” He said, “You weren’t at the town hall.”
I said, “That wasn’t an invitation. If you want to go out with me, you ask me properly.” He said, “All right, you come to the trots with me on Saturday night.” That’s harness racing, that used to be another attraction in Perth. He said, “Come to the trots with me on Saturday night and wear your uniform, we’ll get in for nothing.” I threw a paper or something at him and said, “You miserable dog.” I said, “I’m not going to do something like that. If you want to take me out, you spend some money on me.”
So I suppose we went to the pictures or something. But I was still madly in love with this pilot, so until that fell through I didn’t really seriously consider Bill as a husband or anything else. But he knew it wouldn’t last, so he just hung around. And when my romance with Bob finished, he allowed me time to grieve and to get over that and
we got engaged at Christmas 1946. He was working for International Harvester company, which were a farm machinery company. He had been working for them before he joined up and they were trying to get him back out of the air force because they could see how he had matured from a callow youth into this very good looking, efficient young person. And they had plans for him.
So we were engaged for about three months and he was shifted over here. After a while I thought it was silly him being here and me over in Perth, so I just wrote and said, “I’m coming over. We’ll get married in Melbourne.” And he didn’t say no, so that’s what I did. And for the first two years of our married life we lived in Albury. Then we had seven months in Bendigo. We went to Adelaide for five and a half years,
and that’s where my two sons were born. Then we went back to Perth for about twelve years, then we were shifted back here to Melbourne.
And were you working?
I worked before my eldest son was born. I worked for an accountant in Albury. And there, that was a bit of an experience, too because I still didn’t think I was an A Grade type. So I got that job,
and the accountant came in with a large carriage typewriter one day and he said, “I want you to do this reconciliation on this special sheet of paper and don’t make any mistakes.” I thought, “Oh God, how am I going to do that?” But I did it. And housing in Albury was just horrific. There was just nowhere to live. We eventually got a boarding house
where we could live, just one room, with the stipulation that if you got pregnant, we had to leave. So that also was difficult. We had been married three years before Ross was born, so the system we had worked.
Why did you have to leave if you got pregnant?
Because they had no provision for babies. She didn’t want babies there. She just wanted straight profit. Nobody messing up the whole system. They had all these rules.
Albury was a tough place to live because they used to have wool sales there and they would book out the whole hotel system. There was just nowhere to live. So the first few years of our married life were less than salubrious because of the places that you were lucky to get to live in.
Was this also because of returned soldiers…?
It was because there had been no housing for the whole six years of World War II. Nothing had been built. All the materials went towards the forces. There was no bricks, there was no timber, there was nothing. One two-storey place, just out of Albury, there were eight families living in that house. And even though I worked for this accountant…
We were doing all the accounts for the estate agents and the chemist and even the people working in the estate agents couldn’t get anywhere to live. There was just nothing there. They were all… People who lived in them didn’t vacate them. They just stayed there. So it was really tough. I don’t know if it happened over here, but certainly in WA.
people made their own bricks out of cement. Fairly big blocks of cement and they’d build a garage with another room on the back and they would live in it until they made enough bricks to build their house. The lady next door tells me, she is Italian, they came in 1948 and she said,
“We hadda nothing.” I said, “Nobody had anything. We didn’t have anything.” Bill had two hundred pounds and that’s all he had. But we had taken each other face value, so by the time we became engaged… Neither family knew about it until it was a fait accompli. This is who I am going to marry, come home and meet Mum and Dad. That’s just how it was. Nothing about this
asking your father if you could get married. I had made that decision. This is the person that I am going to marry. They were lucky to get to me.
What about your friendships with the other girls?
Well for a while we didn’t re-establish. The girls who stayed in WA did, but because I was moving about that was difficult.
And I think while we were having babies, while our babies were small, you concentrated on the home life rather than re-establishing those friendships. But we did. We all tracked one another down and they have been very strong friendships and we kept them together more so than the men. Although I think Spitfire squadrons, Catalina squadrons,
Beaufort squadrons, they have kept their associations going. The people who were bits of odd-bods, I think, found it a bit more difficult. But if you want to get in touch with ex-service people, you just ring, say, the Air Force Association. They will know because there is a WAAAF Association in every state. And there’s a reunion every
WAAAF birthday, which is the 14th of March, and there is always a birthday party in that state. Every two years it’s interstate somewhere else. But because we’re all getting old it’s been getting too difficult, beyond our capacity to organise that, because it takes a lot of organising. But my sister and I went to the Hobart reunion in ’97. And in
2001 the reunion was in Adelaide. We think there probably won’t be any more. There was one this year at Alice Springs, but that sort of lost the flavour of the whole thing. That was only two days. The other ones have been three or four days and they’ve included a lovely service. The one in Adelaide was beautifully done. It’s a shame that
they are falling by the wayside because we’re all getting old and things are happening to us. We don’t have the physical energy to do that. But the women still do keep in touch and we do do newsletters. And they are rewarding in many ways. They’re different to a civilian friendship. Somehow or other, it’s more binding.
I feel that’s probably one of the reasons why, say, Bill and I stayed married so long and most of the others have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Because they’re ex-service people and they’ve got a very strong common bond of service life. Maybe some stayed when they could have gone, but for various reasons we all stayed. My sister has and so have I and so have
my main friends.
Were you at a bit of a loss after you were discharged?
Yes. I was very footloose, I suppose. I felt as though the job I was doing wasn’t fulfilling enough. It wasn’t extending me, I suppose. I worked for a wireless bloke in Perth when I was first discharged,
but I didn’t like that very much. And in the end I worked for an exporter and importer and he was sending stuff to Saigon and all around the place and to me I suppose it was always strange names that I felt somehow that I was reaching out, that I was doing something a bit different. And then, before I left Perth,
before I came over to Melbourne to be married, I did meet one of my ex equipment officers. And he said to me, “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. I want you to come and work for me for Wesfarmers,” which were a big agricultural firm in WA. I said, “I’m going to be married. I’m engaged to be married.” He said, “Well, you can still work and be married.” And I said, “Yes, but I’m going to Victoria.”
If I had known he had been searching for me, that would have given me a satisfying job because they just covered different territory to mending radios and all that stuff. The salary was fairly good. It was four pounds a week, which in those days was a fairly good salary. But I had to pay thirty shillings a week board.
So that left you three pounds ten, which I suppose bought more than it does now, but we were certainly not overpaid. And here again, you had to be over twenty-one to get that full adult salary. So if you came from the country to live in town, your parents still had to pay your board until you were twenty-one and able to earn a senior salary.
So some of the things that happened then I see recurring in the community now, and I think you unconsciously refer it back to your own standards of living at that time. “Oh, they’re not too bad off.” Or, “Yes, they should get that.” Even though it’s classed as
living in the past, you do think about these things from time to time. Anzac Day is always a traumatic time because it brings back all those memories. And I think, I don’t know, once you’ve been in the service a part of you still stays there, but I’ve never regretted joining up and neither has my sister.
Her husband was in the army, so she married someone in the service as well. I think we became better managers by being able to run your own department. You had your capabilities extended more than you would have done in civilian life. And as my experience in 14 Squadron was, I found I could do things
that I didn’t think I could ever do and I probably wouldn’t have wanted to do. But all in all, I’m glad that I did serve in the air force and I’m very glad to have done that. I would neither encourage or discourage girls these days who say they want to join up because I think it’s a whole new era and they would have to work it out themselves.