Archive number: 1737
Date interviewed: 02 April, 2004
Air Force HQ
School of Administration
2 Training Group
You are listening to the interview audio
Good morning, Pam.
Good morning to you.
Thank you for giving us your time. The archive wouldn’t exist without your donation of time so thank you very much. I’m going to start off today with a little introduction of you, Pam. Can you tell me first of all by telling me where you were born?
I was born in
And first of all where did you got to school?
To Light Gardens school.
And what age where you when you left school?
When I left primary school I would have been 13 ½ and then I went to Scott’s Business College
because I wanted to do commercial training.
How long was the business college course?
For me it was two years to Intermediate Standard.
And when you finished that course what job did you get?
I had a position in an office for twelve months or
more and then I moved from there to another position and I was there until I enlisted which would be approximately – I was 21 when I enlisted so I suppose it was about 5 years or 6 years.
Was that a job with the Australian Railways’ Union?
And you were working
there when you enlisted?
Yes. It was only a small office but that’s where I was.
When you first enlisted, correct me if I’m wrong, but that was first of all with the Women’s Air Training Corps?
The volunteer organisation?
Yes it was a volunteer it was before the WAAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force] was formed.
And you did that for a while and then
when did you enlist in the WAAAF?
The 23rd of October 1941. I think that’s the correct date.
How long was your rookie training?
I think the rookie training was about a month. It could have been a wee bit longer but about a month.
And where did you do your rookie training?
At St. Catherine’s in Melbourne,
When you passed out from your training where were you posted?
I was posted to Air Force Headquarters at Victoria Barracks in Melbourne.
Was that at St. Kilda, the HQ [headquarters]?
It was St. Kilda Road but I think it would be termed Melbourne because it was on St. Kilda Road and not far out.
How long did you spend at that first posting just roughly?
I suppose it must have been about 12 months.
After spending 12 months at HQ you were promoted to corporal?
Yes, before that. I had about 4 months and then I was a corporal. I was looking back on my records. I was selected then you see for an Officers Training Course and I went before the board.
Where did you do your Officers’ Training Course?
That was at Melbourne
University. They had taken over part of the University.
How long was that course?
I think that was about six weeks or two months. I thin kit was October until about December, early December, so it must have been 3
After the officer course were you then posted back to HQ?
No I was posted to 2 Training Group Headquarters in Wagga Wagga.
So roughly we are now at the end of 1942?
And how long did you spend at 2 Training Group?
We will come back and talk a lot about 2 Training Group but after 2 Training Group at Wagga where did you go then?
Then I was posted
back to Air Force Headquarters in Melbourne. At this time it was down at Albert Park Lake. The whole show had expanded so they had moved a lot of the Air Force Headquarters down to the area around Albert Park Lake. A lot of temporary buildings had been put up and it housed a lot.
So this would be now in 1944 roughly?
Yes I guess it would be 1944. I have the dates correctly in my pay book.
Where were you when the end of the war came?
I was there at Albert Park still at Air Force Headquarters.
When were you discharged?
I think it was the beginning of February 1946.
So in that time in between the war ending and being discharged did you stay at HQ?
Yes we stayed there. There was a lot of tidying up to be done.
Where were you
Out at the Moore Park opposite the repat [repatriation hospital] I think it was there. What was it called? I think it was called Moore Park that was the discharging centre then.
After you were demobbed [demobilised] what did you do?
I was married then on the 23rd of February
1946 and we’ve just had our 58th wedding anniversary.
We will ask you a lot about where you met Ron because you were corresponding with him through the war?
On and off in the early stages but you don’t want to hear all that now do you?
I’ll ask you later. So after you were married?
I had three children. I didn’t ever work. I had asthma badly and I came out of the services with that so I’ve been on a pension for that. So I had three children but I used to do a lot of voluntary work and do different things that I was interested in. I was interested in the church, our own church, I’m an Anglican, and I was involved in that
and later Meals on Wheels and the Red Cross. I’m a Red Cross member.
Did you join the Red Cross during the war?
No that was after.
You mentioned you had three children do you want to tell me about them?
We had a
daughter first pretty quickly. We weren’t as knowledgeable as the young people today. And she was about 3 ½ and I had a son and then about sixteen months later we had another boy and that was it. I was a bit more knowledgeable by then.
And how did you manage with 3 very young children?
It was very hard which is why I didn’t ever work and with asthma as well it wasn’t easy.
I had my own parents of course and they helped and Ron’s mother was a great help when needed. I had bouts of being in and out of hospital and I was very sick sometimes. I was very sick with my first child. I had morning sickness for 9 months and it was awful. I was very thin. I got very thin. I was really, you know, it was too early to have a child straight after the services but most service people did. If they didn’t
already have one they certainly had one in the first twelve months. And then I got better. I came good and I’m on medication and if I didn’t have that I’d be in dire straits [trouble]. I’m still an active person. In those days while the children were at school I was involved in school mothers’ clubs and welfare clubs and kindergarten committees. I’ve always done that type of
thing. I looked after the finances.
Why do you think that it was too soon after the services?
I think that you’re a little bit run down perhaps and all the excitement and whatever of getting out and the tension as gone. It’s not that you are aware of it but you must have it and I just felt I should have had twelve months to sort of settle back into married life and
getting back into civilian life because that was quite different.
We might come back and talk about post war later on in the day but that’s a great summary.
Is that all right?
Yes that’s absolutely fantastic
except I might just ask you about your other ranking. We did talk about you being promoted to corporal but what was your rank after corporal?
Then you become a commissioned officer, assistant section officer. That was equivalent of a pilot officer rank for the men. So it was assistant section officer and you were that for six months
probationary and then you were a section officer. And then you had to just wait to get further promotion as the department sees fit. They had establishments, what we called establishments, I don’t know whether you understand about that, where certain sections or certain jobs required say one wing commander, two or three squadron leaders and half a dozen flight lieutenants and then gradually going down the line. That particular job or
section required so many personnel, so many officers of so many ranks. And then your promotion depended on whether there was a vacancy and whether you were suitable of course. Suitability was another thing.
And what was your rank when you were discharged?
Flight officer. That is the equivalent of a flight lieutenant. Our group leader, the head of the WAAAF,
she was a group officer. So there weren’t a lot of high ranks further than group officer she was the head
So you rose to quite a high position of rank?
There were quite a few of us around back then. There were a lot more section officers probably but as I said it depended on your establishment.
OK well now I’d like to go right back to the beginning and ask you about your childhood?
I had a very happy one.
You were telling us earlier a little about your family background?
My father was English. He was a First World War man. And my mother was German. My mother had left Germany at the age, as far as I can recall, of round about 16 or 17 perhaps which was early in those days but Germany is only over the channel to England so it is not that far away. She went to London and worked the rest of life and spent the rest of her life in England until she
married and came out here. So she spoke fluent English. There were no troubles there. And then she must have met my father and married.
Do you know how they met?
No I really don’t, in London. My Dad had five years out in India. He worked for a big Indian company and I think it imported cotton and things like that.
It had headquarters in India and they sent him out to India and he was out there I think as a bookkeeper for about five years. Then he came back to London and I think it must have been just before World War I. Dad didn’t ever talk that much about it and where he met Mother I don’t know. In London somewhere I guess. They
married but they were married before the war, before the First World War. And I had one brother who was born over there. Then they came out here. And his family had come out. His Mother and several sisters and a brother I think had come out to Adelaide. And I think they followed on the invitation of one of my
Father’s sisters and her husband. He had a big business out here and he wanted my Father to come out and be his bookkeeper. So they packed up and they only had my older brother and he was about 3 ½ I think. They came out here to Australia, to Adelaide, straight to Adelaide. Unfortunately when they got here the job had been given to someone else so it was a
disaster. They were fairly upset I can assure you. It was a bad time to start off. Dad had about 18 months out of work and he couldn’t get a job anywhere. In those days any jobs about were being given to the Australian Servicemen and because he was an English Serviceman, ex-serviceman, he didn’t get much of a chance at all. In the end he had the offer of three jobs and he chose to go into the Department of
Defence, being a soldier. That was the Commonwealth and it was at Chiswick Barracks. That’s where he spent all his working life.
And what sort of job did he do there?
He was an armourer in the armoury. It had to do with guns and all that sort of thing. He was very good. I think he ended up chief armourer. And then when the war broke out, the Second World War broke out, he was put into uniform. He was a warrant officer. He was too old to be an officer but he was a
warrant officer. They had hard times in the 18 months that he was unemployed because there was no dole or money in those days. He just had to exist but my mother was a very capable woman, very capable. She was very strong and capable and she helped out. And then of course they had two more children. I was born about 3 or 4 months after they got out here and then I had
another younger brother and he was born about 18 months after me. So it gave them two extras to look after besides my elder brother. There are three of us and I’m in the middle and the only girl.
Where was the family home?
Well eventually they brought a home in Colonel Light Gardens Gardens like Ron. But he was on the outskirts of Colonel Light Gardens Gardens and in Ron’s day it was
called ‘Rebo’ but eventually now it has all changed and it’s all called Colonel Light Gardens Gardens. That was a big developed by the State Bank and the Government. It is called the Garden City it’s quite a heritage area these days. It’s very unusually laid out with lots of crescents and cul de sacs and it’s a very pretty area now. That’s where they bought the
home. And that’s the home that my sister-in-law now lives in. My brother lived in the home. We moved out when I was about 13 or 14 to Lower Mitcham which is where I came from eventually around the corner from where Ron lived. We used to catch the same train to work. And we’d been to school with each other through school and through Sunday school and then as youth and going to dances and things
in the area.
Before we talk about life in Lower Mitcham can you just talk a little bit about life in Colonel Light Gardens?
That was quite nice and very pleasant. We had quite a walk to school at Colonel Light Gardens Primary School, the infant school and then the primary school. That was a new school that was built in the area and when it was built there were 1,000 homes. It was called the
thousand homes garden suburb. So that needed an infant school and a primary school.
And what were the houses like?
They were all bungalows of one design or another with about 5 or 6 rooms, which were adequate for small families. Most families added on with verandas and sleep-outs and so forth. We had a very pleasant time. They were large
blocks so Mum and Dad kept chooks. Most families in those days had chooks and gardens. They had a flower garden in the front and vegetables etc. all around the back. We had plenty of playing space and had dogs and cats and ducks and chooks and chickens and what have you so it was very happy. It was a happy home and my father was very capable and mother of course was very good.
You mentioned that your mother was very strong and resourceful?
Yes, very. I think I must follow her because Dad was the quieter Englishman but Mother was very strong. She needed to be I think too.
And how often did she speak German at home?
Rarely. I don’t think I ever heard her speak it. We had the odd person come through. Mother was rather good at helping young dogs over
stiles and there always seemed to be somebody who needed a bit of help and often of German background. They must have been referred to her because she never belonged to any German clubs or any of those sort of organisations. She kept right away and a lot of people didn’t even realise she was German. She didn’t have any accent and as children you used to know your parents so you know their voices and the only time I noticed an accent on my Mother was when I was working in the city and we got the
phone by which time of course we were living in Lower Mitcham. And I rang Mother and I could hear an accent but it sounded like a Scottish accent. A lot of people thought she had a Scottish accent but definitely nothing guttural like a German accent. She never made a show of the fact that she was German. I think she might have suffered a bit in England in the First World War.
She was in London during the First World War and she was married then and my Father was on the western front. I think she must have found it a strain. I know when the Second World War broke out she cried. She was quite upset. I suppose she must have thought she was going to go through the same. She never talked much about it but she had lots of English friends and it must have
been a bit hard for her. The Royal family had German connections anyway didn’t they?
What was the public transport like in Colonel Light Gardens?
We had a tram which ran from the city right through. Today it has been all taken away and you wouldn’t realise. There was a tramline, the Goodwood Road, where the Goodwood Road is today that was a lot narrower and up a little bit there was a special part.
It came to Clarence Park and that would have been flat. And then it came along as far as Edward Street and then took its own turn and went off the main road and along this special track that went right down to Daw Park where the hospital is today. That was the tram, the old tram. And that’s what we used to use. When I went through to business college that’s what I
I used. In the Depression days if you were going to the city you would often walk an extra section from where we lived in Colonel Light Gardens to Clarence Park and you saved a whole penny for a child and twopence for an adult which was big money for those days. I think you must have worn out that much
money on our shoes. However, that’s what they used to do. Not always but I think when things were a bit tough it was, “Come on we’ll walk.” We’d walk that section which was quite OK.
How did you get to primary school?
Walked. It was quite a walk from where we lived. Richmond Avenue we lived in which is called Daw Park today. I’m trying to estimate how far it
was. It could have been a whole mile – probably a mile. Ron’s better at doing distances than me. It seemed a long way although it didn’t as children. You all went together. It’s not like it see today with mothers taking them in the cars. In those days it was like a crocodile, you gradually gathered up your friends on the way and walked through to school. I know Mother said I came home – when she enrolled me on the first day she was talking to
her neighbour and who should come through the front gate but me. And she was horrified because I think she had taken me to school. I said, “They’ve finished. They’ve all come out so I walked home.” And it was over this main road and the tramline and everything. And they were all horrified. My first day at school only had up to recess time. It was quite a walk though.
You’ve mentioned some of the hardships that your family suffered and the Depression was very tough?
Yes but my Father was never, ever out of work. He was working for the Commonwealth government and they had pay cuts from time to time but he was never, ever out of work. Mother was always very capable and she sewed and made all our clothes and was a great cook and everything.
What sort of food was she putting on your table?
As a child it was all good food and Dad grew a lot of vegetables of course in the garden like potatoes and onions and all sorts of things. We never, ever went without anything. We never felt it like some people did. People had to give up their homes because they couldn’t afford to pay rent or anything. They’d lose their homes and go back to their parents. Men would often go off into the country
somewhere looking for work. It was really grim. We didn’t suffer anything like that. We were quite happy. We had lovely holidays and we used to go off down to Port Noarlunga and Christies Beach sometimes. Probably the Depression might have been coming off by then. We’d go with family friends and they’d take a house, an empty house, and we’d take all our camping gear. We had a month down at Port Noarlunga for
years on end. They were wonderful holidays and I knew Port Noarlunga very well on the reef and the jetties and all the rest and swimming and so forth. My brother was a keen fisherman and he’d catch fish. It was good. We had a happy childhood and as I said I don’t ever remember going without anything. I think we used to get half a boiled egg. I can always remember that quite vividly. My Father
would cut the egg in half, a boiled egg. But that wouldn’t have been because we were short of eggs because we always had chooks but I think it was for the health. They thought half an egg was quite enough for a young child. I wouldn’t have a idea how old we were at that stage getting half a boiled egg for breakfast or whatever but I always remember Dad cutting it in half. I was very close to my father being an only girl.
What did you
like about him?
He used to read to us. He’d never talk of the war, never. I don’t know Dad was just good and thoughtful. He used to clean all our shoes. That was quite the thing in those days. I don’t think that was unusual. The husbands or the fathers cleaned all the shoes and they were all lined up ready for school all polished and cleaned. He was meticulous about it
himself so we all had nice polished shoes and so forth. And he’d mend them. They were mended. You mended your own shoes in those days. He would be out in the shed tinkering and he was quite capable of doing a bit of woodwork. He built cupboards and eventually we had a back veranda put right across the back of our house with a sleep-out where the boys used to be. And I think Dad did most of that. No, I can’t recall all of it but he might have had some help.
Was that the house at
Yes in those early days.
What was that house made out of?
Brick. They were all double brick bungalows. There must have been a half a dozen different styles because they were all built by the State Bank or through the State Bank the money side of it. They must have had set plans like the Housing Trust and War Service
Homes and all those used to do. They had set plans in half a dozen different varieties. We had one of those. They were all the same, the whole street. All the streets around Colonel Light Gardens were the same. Ron’s wasn’t, Ron’s Father got his through the war service and that was slightly different.
And where was your bedroom?
I think I had a front bedroom. Yes, I had a room to myself and the
two boys used to be out in the sleep out. Everyone had sleep outs in those days. Did Ron mention that he’d sleep out on the front veranda? I don’t suppose he did he wouldn’t think of that. His father put on a big sleep-out addition down one side of the house and people had the blinds and you let down your blinds. There was one on the end and one across the front. And you’d have a couple of beds tucked in there and you’d
race out at night and race into bed with a hot water bottle or a hot brick or whatever. They had hot bricks wrapped up. My Dad used to bring home ink bottles from the barracks and they were stone bottles. And you’d fill those up with boiling water and put one of Dad’s old socks on it or a piece of blanket or something stitched around and you had your hot water bottle. People rarely had the
rubber ones they came later. Hospitals did but mostly people had something or other. Apparently in his house they had hot bricks. They used to warm them up in front of the wood stove because we all had wood stoves too you see in those days. They were built into the house.
What other heating was there in the house?
None. You’d have a wood fire. Of course in the
kitchen you had the stove and the kitchen would warm up. And you’d sit around there with the kids around the table doing their homework or reading or crafts or whatever you might be doing. Then later on I think of course radiators came. Ron and I lived with my parents when we were first married. That was another point you see you couldn’t get houses.
We might come to that later I’ll just make a
note of that.
That was quite interesting and that happened to all ex-service people.
So how did you get on with your two brothers?
I got on all right with them. I was in the middle and they used to call me “Missy.” They reckoned I was a little miss so they used to call me Missy. My older brother he unfortunately lost an eye as a child and had a glass eye. He was only a little boy of about 3 ½
and he’d seen my Mother chopping wood and she’d gone inside with the wood because everything was wood stove. He picked up the axe and hit a piece of iron and it flew up and smashed his eye. So he was taken off to the children’s hospital and of course they removed the eye and ever after he had a glass eye. Today of course they make them and it is plastic. And he used to have to take that out at night and put it in a glass of water with some disinfectant I suppose in it.
It had to be changed as his eye grew and his head grew. And then in later years when he was married and all that it was plastic when plastic came in. It was very a good match so you’d hardly know but I always thought he had a chip on his shoulder. You know, it does that to people. He felt at a disadvantage. I used to get teased a bit by my brothers and I
think I probably got on better with my younger brother than my older brother. I think for that reason that Doug had a chip on his shoulder. But with my younger brother there was only 18 months between us so we were fairly close. He was a happy chappie too. But my older brother was not of such a happy disposition and I think he probably had a chip on his shoulder about the whole deal.
Who meted out the discipline in your family?
Mother. One time I remember my Dad giving us a whack. We always had dogs and cats and we’d been to the show I think and seen what the dogs did in the show. And we’d harnessed the dog to a billy cart, or the boys did, and went off down the street. And we’d ride in the billy cart and the dog would pull us along. My Dad must have found out what we were
doing. And he stood at the gate and called us in and as we each went past we got a whack on the tail with a stick. We deserved it too I guess. But other than that I think that’s the only time my Father ever laid a hand on me. Mother dealt out any discipline. She was the stronger one as I said and Dad was all for a quiet life.
And what did she use?
She’d give you one with her hand. I got hit once with a
flute, a steel flute. I ended up with a big lump on my arm and Mother was very upset about it too as well as me. It was a bit hard discipline.
What was that for?
We fostered a little girl. My mother fostered a little girl at one stage. I suppose I was a bit jealous of that and I didn’t like her very much anyway. I don’t know whether I did something to the girl or not but I got a whack for it
anyway. Mother just grabbed the first thing she had handy and it happened to be one of the boy’s flutes and she gave me a bang with that and I came up with a big lump on my arm. I deserved it because I was unkind to this little girl.
How long did she live with you?
The brother came and the mother was very sick. I don’t know all the
background but I think the mother was a sick woman and couldn’t cope with these children a little boy and girl. So mother fostered them and took them for the department, the Children’s Department, and I think they were with us for about 18 months and then they went back to their mother. It was just to tide them over a certain period. Mother was very generous hearted. She was always helping people out
and working hard on fetes and all that and that’s where I get all that from. There were the school fetes because they were a big thing in those days for money raising. And she belonged to a concert party and used to sing. She had a lovely voice. I’ve got a grandson who is in London at the moment training or hoping to be an opera singer. He’s at the Guildhall in London doing a five-year musical course. But I think the singing came from Mother’s side. She had a sister that was an opera
singer in Germany. Mother had a lovely voice and she used to sing in concert parties and things like that because that was the entertainment in those days. You had pictures but that was all we knew – the talkies in the early days I can remember those, the silents and then the talkies. We had a big picture theatre at Colonel Light Gardens. We used to go there and
sevenpence we used to pay. Sixpence was to go in and you got a penny lolly ticket so that all the children would have something to go in and get lollies. I suppose that would have been during the Depression you see. He was a very nice fellow, Mr Thompson. I can remember him now a big portly gentleman. He was the manager of the theatre and around interval time you could all go in with our tickets and get a sweet of some sort, lollies
of some sort. When you think of it it was a nice gesture wasn’t it. He was a nice bloke because a lot of the children wouldn’t have had money. You didn’t have money for sweets.
Interviewee: Pamela Penglase Archive ID 1737 Tape 02
Before we move on I’m just interested to hear a little bit more about the cinema at Colonel Light Gardens that you mentioned. What did it look like?
Do you mean the outside of it?
It’s just like any of the others I suppose. It was a huge building with a gabled roof and a fancy bit out of the front and you went
in there. It’s still there that’s the whole point it hasn’t really been altered apart from they’ve made shops all around the base. There’s a chemist shop and there’s a fish shop I think and everything. I don’t go down there but I go past it sometimes. And you’d sort of come out the side and behind is all the supermarket part.
What sort of films were showing when you first started going there?
Tom Wicks and
Rin Tin Tin. That was a beautiful Alsatian dog, Rin Tin Tin, I can remember that clearly. And they’d have serials with Rin Tin Tin and they’d stop at the crucial moment and you’d come back the next week to see how it went on. I suppose they must have had suitable films for children. They wouldn’t have had real adult films they would have been fairly simple.
I didn’t go often but we did go to the films. I can always remember it cost sevenpence, sixpence to go in and a penny lolly ticket. That was the drill. I can remember a film called Ramona and there’s a song ‘Ramona, I hear the mission bells above’ and something happened to Ramona and we all cried.
Ramona, she was an Indian girl I think. It was very sad. I can’t remember any other films. The Desert Song that was another one. All the desert films, you know, it would have been Rudolf Valentino, I suppose. I don’t know whether it was always him but he was one of those desert heroes.
I understand that you took a trip back to Germany when you were very young with your Mother?
Yes in 1928 and I had my birthday over there. It was just Mother and I who went and my Father was at home with the boys. And I think the boys went up to Blackwood to a friend that they had and they stayed there and they’d just come back at weekends. They went to the Blackwood School and they’d come home, Dad would pick them up at the weekend.
They’d be home with them at the weekend. We were away for a long time because we went away in about May and came back in November, 6 months we were away. It was quite an exciting time to go away. It was most unusual in those days and of course there was only a ship to go on. It turned out that I went on the Morton Bay. Either I went on the Morton Bay or the Hobson’s Bay and came back on the Morton
Bay but I was on the Morton Bay but it was Bay Liners in those days. They gave me a little silver trinket box that I must show you girls afterwards. On the ship to ease the time along and have some fun they were always having competitions and games and running races and all that for children.
The captain gave a prize to the child who won the most things and that was me. I was always first off the mark I can assure you for a long time. And I got this lovely silver trinket box which I treasure now. Ron’s taken a photo of it. And it was amazing that when he was talking all about Morton Bay I said, “I’ve got the trinket box with Morton Bay and it has got ship’s flag on it with
Morton Bay and the line,” you know, it’s embossed all around. It’s a lovely little thing. I gave it to my eldest granddaughter and she said, “Yes,” she’d like it. I said, “Well you keep it nice and polished.” It has no hallmark on but it must be silver because it tarnishes slightly just the same as any silver and then it polishes up nicely. And I keep it polished up. I went into her room one day
and I saw it was looking black and I thought, “Well she’s not looking after it,” and I took it back. And she’s never said a word to me. She’s about 30 now or 32 and I’ve been meaning to ask her several times, “Look I’m checking did you ever notice that I took that trinket box back?” because she’s never raised the question. She’ll probably get it back one day.
Where did you spend that six months?
With my grandparents in Hamburg. Mother lived at Hamburg down from there
and she wasn’t much like one but she was a Hamburger. And my grandparents lived there and we always went to Berlin where Mother’s girlfriend lived. Tante [Aunt] Anna she was called and we stayed with her for about a fortnight or so. We had a great time there in Berlin. But most of my time was in Hamburg when we were staying there
and we had time in England too, a fortnight perhaps, seeing Dad’s sisters. He still had sisters, a couple of sisters there and cousins and things in London or around England, the North of England. We had a wonderful time over there. It was really great. I went to school. I had only arrived one day and of course everyone lived in apartments in the city and my grandparents were up on about the third or fourth floor.
They could look down and there was a school next door and they could see into the schoolyard. Anyway, the next morning there was a knock on the door and it was the school inspector. He said, “I hear you’ve got a child of school going age here?” “Yes, yes.” “Well she is to come to school?” So Mother said, “She can’t speak any German or anything. “No, she’s to come to school. There is an English teacher there and she can be in her class.” So I went to school the very next day.
My mother and grandparents could look down and see me in the schoolyard. I can tell you I was quite a curiosity. They thought I must be black because I came from Australia. My grandparents were even surprised that I was white. They thought the sunshine in Australia was so strong that you all got burned black. It was amazing they were quite surprised. Mother soon put a skate [an end] on
that. I had a great time at school. I’ve passed them on now but I had a little reading book and a spelling book and a writing book to write in and everything. There’s a picture somewhere of me in the schoolyard. You know how they used to put the children all in a circle, a double circle, with the teachers in the side holding hands. There’s a lovely one
somewhere. I can’t remember where it is now. It was taken in the schoolyard with all the children. And they all came around me like bees around a honey pot when it came to recess. And they were jabbering away at me and I didn’t know what they were saying. I didn’t know one word. They said, “Wie heiss du?” I haven’t got the correct intonation but it means, “What is your name?” I didn’t know
it so I just said, “A, B,C.” That was a lovely name. But the teacher was very good and she spoke good English. After that period of time when it was time for us to come home and leave Germany and go back to London and we went by ship across the [English] Channel I had great difficulty in speaking English and finding the right words. Children can pick up languages
so quickly and I was only 7 and I had my 8th birthday over there and children just pick it up so quickly. I had difficulty. Mother said when she got back there after the Second World War here she was taken with the Red Cross up to Woodside where they had all the migrants and a lot of the early refugees. Mother went up there to
help interpret for them in the German language. She said she found that very difficult after all those years, probably 20 years had gone by, because they had different dialects the same as you have around England. They used her a few times. I found it quite difficult trying to speak English but then you dropped it. Immediately you got back home and amongst English speakers you weren’t speaking it any
more. My other family will say, “Why didn’t your mother keep up your German language?” I said, “No, it wasn’t done.” It wasn’t done, you didn’t do that. And my Dad I don’t think could understand much German anyway. So it wasn’t much good talking German. She didn’t encourage or have German friends. She didn’t have a German friend. There was one lady that lived nearby and she was
German and Mother used to talk to her sometimes.
What sort of impression did your German grandparents leave on you?
I just remember them as lovely. My grandfather was inclined to be domineering. He had four daughters and they all left home because I think he was domineering. He was that Prussian German, he was a real Prussian German.
And the girls as soon as they were old enough to fly the coop [leave home] they went. He cried when Mother came home that all his girls had gone although one was living nearby so she hadn’t gone. One went to America and this opera singer went off to Denmark I think. He cried because he realised he’d been hard on his girls and they’d all left home because of it. I had one nice Aunty that lived a few streets away
and I remember her. I had a wonderful time there. I got carted around everywhere and there were cousins and things of course. And I was piled and spoiled with gifts with balls and chocolates and all sorts of toys and things and dolls. I can remember having a great time and going into the countryside. Germans are great walkers, bushwalkers and that. They go off with their haversacks and that was the first time I’d heard of a haversack.
I came home with a couple for my brothers and I had one. They just loaded us up, me in particular, with chocolates and so forth, beautiful animals all covered in foil. We see them today but it was unusual in those days. They were happy times. And I had a happy time in Berlin. There was Mother’s girlfriend and her husband. She was the housekeeper and her husband was the
chauffeur for a very wealthy family, an aristocratic family, who were Jewish and they all disappeared of course when the war broke out and had a terrible time. My Mum and Dad went back in 1951. They went back to Germany for a holiday. Dad always promised his Mother-in-law that he’d bring her home again. So he went back too
and they stayed with this Aunt again in the same house where I’d been as a little child when we’d stayed with them. And the family had all gone they’d just disappeared. I think they went to the gas chambers because they were Jewish so it was really sad. Mother came home with a whole lot of
lovely things. When they had to flee they put all their valuables and stuff down in the cellar and said to my aunt, “You have whatever you want.” They never, ever came back. She knew they’d never back. It’s terrible isn’t it?
It’s a very tragic thing.
The world is a tragic place in that situation. So I’ve got some lovely things that came from there.
Coming back to Australia we probably need to move on. You then left Colonel Light Gardens and came to Lower Mitcham. How did that come about?
Mother wanted to get into something better. They looked around and we rented for a little while but
that didn’t turn out to be satisfactory while she sort of made up her mind what she was going to do. Well, Mum and Dad did, I must say they’d always consult. Mum maybe had the ideas but they worked together and they were very good in that regard. We moved around a couple of times and they rented a properly around here that belong to a Mother who’d gone into hospital of a very good friend of theirs. “Mother will never come back,” he said, “You take over that
place.” And they rented that for a little while and then Mother wanted to come back and Mother came back so they looked around and they bought this house in Clare Street, Lower Mitcham. That’s where I was and I must have been about 16 or 17 at that stage, 17 perhaps. I can’t remember but around about that age.
OK. So that was a bit later then?
Yes we left
after I went to business college. I was 13 when I finished school, public school, and then I went to business college. I must have been about 16, 15 or 16, when we moved into Lower Mitcham. That was very nice.
We had a bungalow but very nice and a little bit bigger and a nice lot of garden.
I should just backtrack a little bit and talk about you leaving school. Why was it that you left school at 13 ½?
That was only the primary school at 13 ½ and then you either went to high school or a lot of people went off to
work and went to work. I think you had to be 14 to go to work, to leave school and go to work. I went to Business College because you had to pay to go to high school in those days. I think the wheel has gone around and you do again now. But it was fairly expensive and
also I wanted to go and work in an office. If I’d gone through the high school I would have had to have gone through at least 3 years before I could come out and go to business school to work. So I wanted to do commercial and I went to the business college and I did shorthand and typewriting and then I did some other subjects as well such as bookkeeping. And I stayed there for two years and did my
Intermediate from there.
Before you left school what sort of hopes and dreams did you have?
I just wanted to work in the office. I think that was the main idea that I had. I just wanted to work in an office and I hadn’t thought much further than that. I don’t know that I had a dream. You didn’t aspire to go to university in those days. Today the youngsters all want to go to university whether or no but
you didn’t aspire to that. That was for people up there with a lot of money and all that. So I was happy to go and work in an office and I had a nice job, a good job. I had two or three as I said before. I landed in the ARU [Australian Railways Union] office and that was very nice.
And where was the business college that you went to?
It was in Flinders Street, just over Gawler Place in Flinders Street. The building is still there. Eventually it became
Pride Business School and I realised I knew the lady that ran it, Pride. The first job I had when I came out of the business college, my first job after I’d done the Intermediate, was with the Independent And Dried Fruits Producers and Dried Fruits Association (a great mouthful) and I worked for one fellow and his
daughter and she was Barbara Pride. Well, she married and became Pride. She was a very capable woman and eventually she bought it out, years down the track, and Scott’s Business College became Pride Business College.
What sort of people were your instructors?
Ladies and there was one fellow who taught us I think for bookkeeping but the women teachers were for
English and Geography and shorthand and typing. I did an Intermediate at all of those.
And how did you take to these new subjects?
Very well, I enjoyed them very much. Geography I had always enjoyed and English I was always quite good with English and shorthand and typing I took to as well. I did quite well in those and got credits in the Intermediate so that was all to the good.
After two years that was it and I couldn’t stay any longer and I got a job.
Where was this first job situated?
In the Seymour Building. I worked there up on the 9th floor, the Seymour Building on the corner of Hindley Street and King William Street. Do you know that one? It is the coloured one and it was nine storeys which was very high in those days. It was the highest building in Adelaide. Nine storeys, well, it was
a bit higher than nine because I was up on the ninth floor and there was a couple of others. That was very good. I liked working there. She was very good, Barbara, the daughter of the fellow who was the secretary of the Independent Dried Fruit Producers Association. Eventually that closed down for some reason or another I don’t know and there was a fellow in the same building who was a money lender. A financial adviser I
think you might call them today. In those days he was a money lender and I worked for him for a few months but I didn’t like him. He was drunk most of the time and I didn’t care for him at all so I left as soon as I could find another job. And that’s when I went to the ARU, the Australian Railways’ Union.
And how did you manage to find this job?
I think it was advertised in the Advertiser and that’s how I got it. The other one I think I must have got through word of mouth with this money
lender fellow working in the same building. I can’t recall that. Anyway the ARU I answered through the paper and had an interview and all that and got the job. And I was with them all the time until I went to the services and until war broke out.
And where was the office of the ARU?
On North Terrace straight opposite the railway yards, the platform area, down that end past the Grosvenor.
All that area has changed now. It used to be the News & Mail on the other corner and we were over on the other corner, the Cresco Fertilisers Building, up on the third floor. It was quite nice too. I just worked with three other men and I was the only girl. I did the typing, shorthand and typing, that sort of thing and the banking. There was an accountant and the other fellow was an
organiser. He’d go out around the railways I suppose and on the railway yards where the men worked. And then there was the State Secretary of the Union. He was very nice. He was a very fatherly figure. He was very nice and we got on very well.
How much did they pay you?
I think I got 25 shillings to start with and most of my friends were only getting a pound. I got 25 shillings. I was always a bit above thee average because being a union office they always
paid better than anyone else. They were always fighting to get more money for their men so I considered I was very lucky. It was very difficult to get into banks and insurance companies. It was, “What college did you go to?” They were very class conscious. It didn’t matter if you had an Intermediate or not. An Intermediate in those days I suppose was the
norm. You see Ron did his Leaving and Leaving Honours but that was only the really bright ones that did that. Most of my friends, the girls I ran into later and girls I made friends with, had all done the Intermediate or the Leaving. Some of the girls had done the Leaving but that was the norm I think the
Intermediate. That was the standard you aimed for. Today they all aim for university.
So at the end of your business college you got an equivalent Intermediate Certificate?
It was an Intermediate. You had to sit for that the same as everyone else. You were trained to that level.
What sort of duties did you have at the ARU?
Shorthand and typing of letters and things that were sent
and documents that were drawn up for arbitration and all that sort of thing. Men would come in and have to give what their work was and what they did and I’d have to type it all out. They’d write out what they did and then the big boss would put it together for when they went to court, to arbitration, and all that sort of thing. We had magazines to be sent out, monthly magazines, and I’d do all the
labels, sticky labels, and stuff for that. I’d take them down to the printers and they’d put them all together. The other fellow was the accountant and he did all the bookwork. I could make out receipts and all that when the men came in to pay their dues. But it was general office work. I got on very well with them.
What did you do with your twenty-five
I saved a good bit and I paid a little bit at home. You were expected to pay your way. I can’t remember that much Mother took of it, ten shillings or five shillings and then I’d bank the rest. Then I had to clothe myself, you had to dress yourself. You saved your money and hopefully you went out to the pictures a few times with the odd boy and they’d pay for you. But
I managed quite well and I saved. I’d have a few holidays just going off to friends of mothers in the country. I saved a bit and Ron and I did the same when we went into the services. They had deferred pay. They had deferred pay which was put aside and that was just done for everybody. And then you’d save your money and put it away. You could have your deferred pay
increased and they’d just deduct it before you got the money. You didn’t have much to provide for yourself in those days. You got all your meals and everything. As an officer I did anyway living in the barracks or mess I should say.
What sort of clothes were you able to buy yourself when you got this new job?
Stockings were about two [shillings] and eleven [pence] or what we called three shillings or five shillings if you were extravagant and they’d go the distance quickly. And Mother still made my clothes. She would still make my clothes because she was very good at sewing. She made me some lovely clothes and I was always well dressed. Even tailored things she’d tailor jackets and things. Oh yes, I was always well dressed with nice hats and
things. I remember I was very daring once I had a dress that was all scalloped and no sleeves, oh dear, dear. It was scalloped all down there and scalloped all down the front with a buckle between each scallop. I can remember it was tied at the back. It was very fashionable then to have a tie at the back. I felt my back swayed in a bit so the bow would go in the middle of your back and hide that
sway. You laugh when you think about it now. And don’t forget you had a handbag and gloves and a hat. There was none of this casual bit like the girls wear today. We all had hats and that was a great thing in your lunch department going to the hat department and trying on the hats. It was a real laugh. We used to still do that when I’d go to town with some of my girlfriends after I was
married with children. My neighbour and I when the children were all off at school would go into town. If you were down it was, “Let’s go to the hats.” And you’d try all these hats on. And, “Can I help you, Madam?” “No I’m just trying it on.” And we would put these hats on and I can see my friends posing and all this. But the money had to go a
long way with hats and bags and gloves and nice shoes of course always. But you’d scout around and you’d find bargains in the sales and all that. Mother made most of my clothes but as I progressed and grew older I saved up and for special occasions I’d buy outfits. An outfit and a dress jacket or something.
Do you remember your
18th wasn’t anything special, your 21st was your special -18 was just another day. I know when I was 21my parents shouted - war had broken out by then of course, and I was to go to the Southern Cross Hotel for dinner. That was a very nice hotel and it had nice meals. So I invited about 4 or 5
girlfriends and we went there for dinner to celebrate my 21st. And Dad rang through for champagne, “A bottle of champagne for the girls to celebrate.” One girl was there that was a friend of mine and I was bridesmaid for her later during the war. She was an only child from a very strict Methodist family and she wouldn’t have anything to drink. Afterwards we were going to the pictures and she wasn’t allowed to go. Her mother didn’t
believe in pictures and she wasn’t allowed to go to the pictures. After dinner you see we all went off to West’s Theatre in Hindley Street. That was a beautiful theatre in those days and that is where the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra is now. But she wasn’t allowed to come. So we all went off to the pictures and that was great. That was my 21st.
Just backtracking a little bit, a couple of years,
you were working at the ARU when war was declared. What do you recall of the day that war was declared?
I can’t remember very much about it at all really. We were just all very sad to think that that had happened and everybody was perturbed.
We were sitting around the radio listening to it of course. So we were at home in the evening around the radio and I can just remember Mother cried because she thought she had to go through another war although she never had any unpleasantness ever said to her. I don’t think anyone ever realised, and living in another district again,
I don’t think anyone ever realised that Mother was of German descent. Not that she ever hid it but I think it was just accepted that she was English. Most people thought she was English with her Father being English she was English. But Mother was upset because her parents were there and still alive. I’m just trying to think – no, I don’t think her parents were
alive. No, they weren’t they had both died. I can’t remember exactly but I remember Mother opening up a letter from her sister who lived in Hamburg saying that her Mother had died and there was her Mother lying out in this coffin and they’d photographed it, this photograph dropped out of the envelope and showing her in a coffin. It wasn’t very nice. That must be
traditional or something. So she had gone and I’m pretty sure Father had died too so I don’t think her parents were alive so she didn’t have that to worry about. But apparently there were cousins of mine, her sister had two boys, and they were on the Russian Front. They were killed on the Russian Front.
I had no way of chasing anybody up and trying to do genealogy and find some relatives of mothers because they are all gone. When the war started it was just sad anyway but I wanted to join up because I was made keen on flying. And I used to keep a scrapbook with all the London to Melbourne Air Races
and Jimmy Melrose was my hero. I was mad on flying. I had a couple of joy trips. We had an aunt and uncle who lived behind us in Colonel Light Gardens who were childless. And when my Mother and I came back from Germany who should we find but these young friends, lodge friends from my Father’s lodge, living behind us. They were childless and
they would have been in their early 30s I think. And they made a great fuss of me and it ended up we took the palings off the fence and I was in and out and they used to always refer to me also their adoptive daughter. They used to take me everywhere. I used to go for trips in the country to farms, she came from farming stock. And we’d go out into the country and we’d stay on farms and it was great. They’d take me off
on trips and he had a car. Cars were unusual. My Dad had a car at one stage until he had an accident and fell on a motor bike and it broke his nerve. That’s when I said we used to go on holidays down to Port Noarlunga everything was piled on the old Overland. It was called an Overland. Things were piled on that and on the running boards at the back. Dad had made collapsible beds –
no, you could buy those we had beds but he’d made tables that collapsed and all sorts of stools . And we used to go off to these empty houses and set them up for holidays and it was great. So Dad had a car.
Where did you do your joy flights?
Out at Parafield. My uncle – Aunty Elsie and Uncle Bob they featured very much in my life and I in theirs of course because they were childless. And as they grew older and
started to get sick and fragile I used to do a lot for them. A lot of their banking and shopping and I’d generally keep an eye on them. They lived over on the Henley Beach Road in a nice house there. And I used to keep an eye on them and shop for them and do anything they wanted done.
I was just interested to hear about the joy flights?
We went out to Parafield and they shouted me a trip
and Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob wanted to go up to. In those days planes used to come out there to Parafield and run joy flights and just take you up for a flip around for ten minutes or quarter of an hour and that was it. And I had a couple of trips like that and it fired my imagination. It was great fun. I used to keep this scrapbook of all the things I’d cut out of newspapers and stick them in this book. I should have
kept it but I threw it out eventually. I would have gone into the air force if they had allowed women as a pilot or I would have tried anyway. I had several flights during my career in the air force. You’re not supposed to but I did.
You talked about how your mother responded to the declaration of war but how did your Father respond?
I don’t really recall. He just thought that it was a grim show that the things had happened and it had come to this again. And of course he was in the Defence Department and he used to go off on camps occasionally when we were younger I think. But he was too old when the war broke out. Dad would have been in his 60s or
early 60s. I just think he like all of us thought it was bad that it had come to that again. After all it was hardly 20 years between wars and that’s no long time is it? Mother was upset but after that she got over it all right. She just had to carry on with
life. She joined the Red Cross, the Mitcham Red Cross here and eventually I joined that when we came to live up here. I used to be in the Red Cross down at the Seacliff Branch and then when we moved back up here I joined the Mitcham Branch. But Mother had been in that during the war and she was a great worker for them and for district nurses. She did great things. She was always cooking for
fetes and trading tables and she was used to doing all that. She did quite a bit for the Red Cross during the war.
That’s a good place for us to stop and change our tape.
Interviewee: Pamela Penglase Archive ID 1737 Tape 03
Pam you were just talking about your love of flying, what was it about flying that you loved so much?
I don’t know it just fascinated me. And there were these handsome young fellows were part of the attraction realising I was only young in those days. And I suppose it was something new. Flying was reasonably knew and it got quite a
lot of interest and it was very glamorous too in those days. They were handsome fellows and there was the excitement of these great planes. I suppose they were only small in comparison to nowadays where you fly everywhere and you go and have a look at these great jumbos and wonder however they get off the ground and stay there. It’s amazing.
Where was your first joy flight?
Out at Parafield.
And where did you go?
fly you around the area that’s all. I don’t know I think they used to charge about 10 shillings which was a lot of money in those days and I think they just flew around to nowhere in particular just around the area there like you see planes do. They wouldn’t have gone too far. I suppose they gave you about a quarter of an hour and that would be it.
When you were talking about when war was declared that if you
could have enlisted as a pilot you would have?
The girls weren’t allowed to fly. There was no calling for us to do that.
How did it make you feel that you couldn’t?
I suppose that was just the thing I suppose it was normal. All the boys were there to do it and you didn’t worry about the differentiation between you, the males and the females. It didn’t worry you. You just
accepted that the boys were flying and the girls were doing things on the ground.
The first organisation you volunteered for was the Women’s Air Training Corps?
Yes, that’s right, yes.
What did you do?
That was formed to teach you the rudiments of marching and drill that you get in the air force of course.
And then you learned the ranks of the service people and that was the main part of that. They specialised in teaching WT, wireless telegraphy, and Morse Code of course and tele-printing. They had aircraft recognition
courses that we had to do and principles of flight. I noticed on my thing there I had Principles of Flight and I got 87% or something so I must have known a bit in those days about how to recognise aircraft. That was really just preparing you. I suppose it must have been considered that eventually they would open a women’s service in the air force.
It hadn’t started then but this was preparatory to getting people sorted out and used to service before they went into it and at least it gave you drill an marching and all that. And girls were very good at it. They could knock the balls off the boys anytime with marching. Girls always march much better than boys funnily enough.
How did you find out about the training course?
I think it was just advertised in the paper calling
girls to join and learn a bit about this that and the other in case of being needed. I think it was probably looking to what might happen in the future when we were needed. I’d always said right from the word go “I’m going to join the air force if they start the air force.” I didn’t want to go into the army or nursing, I don’t think I’d have been any good at that. My father and I always used to say the
same thing, “We don’t look for blood but we know what to do if we see it so that’s the main thing.” I was never drawn to nursing. As soon as war broke out that was it I said, “I’m going into the air force if they want us” and that is how it started. I enjoyed the WATC [Women’s Air Training Corps]. I don’t know how long I was in there about 18 months or 15 months before I got called up. There were rumblings going on all the time about starting ordinary service,
auxiliary for the air force, and there was a lot of controversy about it. I think looking back and reading through the books the director of the WAAAF she had a great tussle with the parliamentarians to get it going. A lot of the men were agin [against] it but eventually it started of course and then I transferred over, I joined up. I had to join and be accepted.
You had to join up and be accepted.
Before we talk about your enlistment in WAAAF, with the Training Corps how often did you get together?
I think we used to go one weeknight and Saturday afternoon.
And whereabouts did you meet?
Along North Terrace and it’s now one of the university buildings. It was pulled down but it was the Exhibition Building, what was called the Exhibition Building on North Terrace.
It was pulled down eventually and one of the big university buildings has been built there since. There was a big parade ground at the back. I suppose it could have been a basketball court or tennis court I can’t recall. I know it was asphalt. And that’s where we used to drill and march and all that. And we’d go around to the Teachers’ Training College but whether it abutted it
I can’t recall now. We used to go to Kincore Avenue, the Teachers’ Training College, in Kincore Avenue. And they had a big drill room or a big auditorium and we’d go there for PT [physical training] and all that sort of thing. One of the ladies used to take PT and she used to be with the
Education Department, Miss Cleggett, I can still remember her name. I remember she picked me out on occasion I had to go up on the platform and show them my marvellous control of my stomach muscles. It was hilarious. She said, “That girl down there has perfect control of her stomach muscles. Come up here.” I had to go up on the stage and show them how I did it. I said to Mother, “How ridiculous I just moved it in and out.”
Miss Cleggett used to come to school when we were kids and take physical education. She used to tour around the schools and take classes. The kids all got physical eduction.
What areas did you enjoy the most at the Training Corps? What subjects did you enjoy?
I enjoyed all the marching and all that because I’d done callisthenics. I think I was still at that stage doing PT and callisthenics.
I belonged to one of these combined church comps doing gymnasium and folk dancing and I used to go to Ballarat to the competitions and all that in my teens. So I was used to doing that sort of thing and I enjoyed it. And then there were the classes that we went to. We had classes for aircraft recognition and elements of flight that they taught us and that was
good. And then I started to do WT, teleprinting not WT [wireless telegraphy], teleprinting. And that was sort of on a typewriter and you did that at the GPO [General Post Office]. They had some of the men train you there at the GPO. I only did a short period of that and then I was called up.
There was a far bit of opposition towards WAAAF at the very beginning when there were rumblings of
it. How did you feeling about that opposition?
It didn’t worry me. I was just anxious and wished they’d hurry up and call us all up. It was while they were sorting it all out. I think once the Air Board had accepted it and the Minister there in parliament – well, of course it was all ready going in England. They had the WAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force] and they were
going well and truly in England well before us and I think they realised that it was inevitable that it would happen here. We had the army nurses and the AWAS [Australian Women’s Army Service] had already started up. I felt if they didn’t hurry up and call me up for the WAAAF I’d be into the army. I was getting sick of waiting. Also, it was an opportunity to get away from
home, to leave home, because we didn’t leave home in those days. We were all at home. It’s not that home wasn’t a lovely place and all that but you were anxious to see the world and get away. I’d always thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have enough money to go on the Melbourne Express.” I’d watched that go out many times from Adelaide station. I’d seen many different ones off and then of course eventually I found myself on it and that was wonderful.
When you were called up where did you
To what was the old legislative building. It is right next to parliament side on the railway station side. There’s a lovely old building there. It’s a red brick building and that used to be the Legislative Council. It was in there that the recruit office was. That’s where they established the recruit office and they did the
recruiting from there.
How did your family react to you being called up?
My mother was all enthusiastic and my Dad. Both my parents were in favour of it. They knew I was keen and they never stepped in my way. They thought like I did it would be a great adventure. With Mother having left home all those years ago when she was a young girl and they’d also made the big trip out here to Australia so it was inevitable that I’d be interested.
What about your brothers?
My oldest brother had only one eye so he wasn’t acceptable and my younger brother eventually did join up and he went into the catering corps. He didn’t have enough education for anything better or higher I should say not better. They all had to have their cooks and catering were most important but he didn’t have enough qualifications but that.
The day that you did
go into parliament house and enlist what medical did you have?
It was a complete medical. You had to strip to your knickers and I suppose we took our bras off. It was all very embarrassing I can assure you. You can imagine all the girls with all these young fellows poking around. I knew one of them who was a doctor and he didn’t last
long. He was only out of his medical corps a short time. And he heard a murmur. He must have heard a small heart murmur but he didn’t realise I was that nervous. He said, “Come over here.” He called his friends while I was lying on the couch and he said, “Listen to this.” I don’t know whether he was admiring me or just listening. I thought, “Oh, the cheek of it.” But there we are it was a little bit embarrassing but it was just a normal medical check up. They were all
men there were no ladies in those days. There were a few women doctors around but they certainly weren’t down there.
The other women that were in the Training Corps with you were they also called up?
Yes quite a few of them were there was quite a big intake. That was the first big intake into the WAAAF because the WAAAF had started in March 1941 and it was October 1941 before I was called up so they had been going
six months. There had been quite a few girls from the WATC that had gone in as WT operators and wireless and signals. And quite a few of those had gone in. It was only in smatterings, three or four here or three or four there, but our call up was the first big general call up. And I was 91544. I was the 44th,
915 was for South Australia and 44 was my number. So we were the first big call up to go in. I’ve got a photo somewhere there of us all lined up at the Adelaide Station up in the top part there where you all look down. We were all standing around there waiting to be interviewed and go to the board and all that sort of stuff and go through the draw for the day. It was very exciting. It was all very exciting.
And finally to get away on that train it was interesting. There were girls that weren’t in the WATC as well and the two girls that eventually became my best friends we all went together on this call up. And one of them I had met in my childhood before but the other one I didn’t know. When we introduced ourselves all around the carriage, there were about 8
to a carriage. There were little compartments and there were about 4 on each side. And we gave our names to each other and when we were born and all this caper and where we came from. And I discovered that one of the girls I had met when I was about 13 in the school holidays and I’d gone up to Loxton for a holiday. And her Father was a bank manager up there and the lady I had stayed with had two boys and she was anxious for me to have girls
around to play with during the school holidays. So she gathered a whole lot of girls around and one of them was this girl Flora that I had met. I recognised her immediately and she recognised me but we hadn’t seen each other since those Loxton days. The other girl, I didn’t know her, but Flora knew her. She had met her through her youth at some stage or other at tennis or whatever it was. We became
friends and you wouldn’t believe it we were nearly triplets. There were two of us that were born on the 22nd July, 1920 and the other one the 23rd of July. So we were always together and that sort of bonded us together all through our service careers. We were either two together or one by themselves somewhere and then we’d come back and there’d be another two together. There was always a couple of us together and it was great.
Can I just go back to before you
left and signing up and the preparation to go. What did you want to do in the WAAAF? What role did you want?
My mustering was clerk general. I just expected I would do shorthand and typing in a big office complex for records and all that. There’d be plenty to do there. I never
touched a typewriter and never used shorthand either.
That’s a big jump away from wanting to be a pilot?
Yes well that was only a wish that you would love to be but you knew there was never going to be that opportunity.
Did the mechanics or getting involved in maintenance ever appeal to you?
No it never did. There were a lot of different appointments in mustering for girls. I’m quite staggered myself when I look through my books at
all the different musterings the girls had. There were the regulars and the mechanics and fabric workers and all sorts to do with planes. And then photography they would go up those girls, and one girl I think was killed in a crash, they were checking cameras and things that the boys used and so forth. Quite a few girls did that but there was a
lot of musterings. There were stores. My friend that I had, Flora, she was an equipment officer. She got a commission as well and she became an equipment officer. There was a lot to do with equipment and accounting. You can see all the different branches that there were and there were medical branches.
So what preparation did you have to be a general clerk?
Nothing, it was only the
fact that I could do shorthand and typewriting. I was mostly doing records and writing up ledgers as to where people had gone and keeping track of people, that was records.
And what uniform were you issued with?
The same as the fellows except we had skirts instead of long pants. It was a tunic and then a skirt. I think they were slightly
gauze. Later on I think they took the gauze out and made them straight through. We had blue shirts and black ties and caps and that was it. And we had a dilly bag to put all your things in, one of those navy sausages to put your clothes and stuff in.
Were you ever issued with pants?
Pants as in slacks? No. But some of the girls did I
think with certain jobs that they had. A lot of them wore overalls around the place. We had navy blue overalls. I had a pair but I never wore those it was only as an ACW [Aircraft Woman] I did when we were doing some shifting from one building to another. And we were carting equipment and we put them on to keep ourselves clean and had them on then. We looked like real dags too.
What personal items did you take with you?
We didn’t take much in the way of – I think we did have the odd dress and civilian clothes and your underwear of course. And if you went out as civvies [civilian], you were allowed to go out as a civilian at night, so you took your clothes. You wouldn’t be able to take too many because there wasn’t the room to put them all when you got to your barracks or wherever you
were. I lived out for twelve months and then I came off and was posted to a posting as a clerk general I was then in a boarding house or guest house. It was in South Yarra on Toorak Road so it was a guest house. It was a big two-storey place and cloistered. It had arches all the way along the front. And an
elderly lady and her brother ran it and quite a few WAAAFs stayed there. It was very hard to get accommodation. They didn’t have enough accommodation like buildings, houses, to form barracks to put the girls in. That came a little bit later.
We’ll talk about that when we get to Melbourne. On the train journey who was on the platform to see you off?
I think our parents came. I
don’t know that they were allowed to go through the gates. I can’t really remember. We were all in civvies of course and we all had cases, cases with our civilian clothes in. I can’t remember whether we just kissed goodbye to our parents on the other side of the barriers, you know the gates that you go through. I think that’s how it happened.
So you didn’t leave in uniform?
No you didn’t get those until you got to your
barracks, to the recruit depot, where you were going to do your rookies’ course.
So how did you know the other girls were WAAAF girls as well?
We were all together and we had a couple of sergeants, men sergeants, looking after us. And also the transport people who were men of course were getting us all on board and
ticking us all off and making sure everybody was there. There was one corporal girl that was at the Recruit Office. She was working away there and I met her early in the piece. The men just herded us all on and we were allotted different carriages and compartments and that and we just went on board. I think we just said goodbye to our
parents on the other side of the barriers. I don’t remember there were even any tears – it was all so exciting and so different you know. It was quite different.
How did the corporals respond to these women that were suddenly WAAAFs?
They were very good. I think they thought it was all a bit of a lark. They were nice, very nice.
So when you got to Melbourne you had to go to the Recruiting Depot – where was that?
No we were
picked up when we got to Melbourne and I’m pretty sure we were all loaded on trucks, air force trucks. They came along and I think we just went on those as I recall or it could have been a bus. It might have been a bus, I can’t really recall. And then we were taken to St. Catherine’s. I think we all went to St. Catherine’s. That’s right, we did.
We all went to St. Catherine’s. Then they had to sort us all out and there wasn’t enough live-in accommodation at St. Catherine’s which was where we did all our training. We ware all barracked in a beautiful old home at Toorak called Orrong in Clendon Road. Orrong was the name of the beautiful old home with huge gardens around it. Apparently, I read my WAAAF book somewhere, that
it was vacant and it was recommended to the air force that the air force take it over for barrack accommodation because they were so hard up and that’s what happened and that’s where we all went. I think a few stayed at St. Catherine’s because probably there wasn’t enough room. They were huge rooms and it was like a hospital ward really. They were big rooms and the beds were all lined up in a
row with a little wardrobe and dressing table combined in between for each person. That’s how it looked.
What were your beds made out of?
We had palliasses in those days. They were sort of hessian and then you had to go down to the spot wherever it was and fill them up yourselves.
We were talking about your beds?
You’d just put your things down where you were to be at whichever bed or room you were in, there were lots and lots of rooms, it was two storey, and then of course we had to go and fill up these palliasses. I think it was made of hessian and you took it and went down to a room somewhere or downstairs and outside to a shed and filled it up with straw. And that was your bed. They were your beds, straw palliasses, in those early days
anyway. I’m not sure how long that lasted or whether it lasted the whole war. But as an officer I certainly didn’t have that I had a proper bed and mattress. It was good fun but if you’d been allergic to straw it would have been bad. We just filled it all up with straw. I think it probably folded in like a pillow case and they were our beds. We had blankets and they all had to be folded neatly
and there would have been sheets. I’m pretty sure we had pillow cases and sheets and blankets, grey blankets. They were service blankets, grey ones.
How did the other girls react to this?
Some girls were a bit shocked I think. You know, I didn’t expect to be treated like something precious but I think some of the girls had probably never left home. I’d never left home before either. Most of us hadn’t ever left home before.
But some girls might have felt a bit precious and were not expecting all this. However, they all settled down eventually, everybody got used to it.
The WAAAF was still very new and you were the first big intake?
Yes. It was something new. It was a new experience.
How prepared were WAAAF for the intake?
I think they were gradually – the nucleus of officers had all been
formed and trained in what they had to do. I think they got settled into it quite OK. We all had to get used to calling the officers “Madam.” They were all “Madam” because men were “Sir.” If you were an officer you were “Sir” and if you were a female you were a “Madam.” That was a bit tricky but we soon got used to it.
That was your living accommodation which
was where you slept but where were your other facilities, where was your bathroom?
Now let me see. They built an ablution block, what they called an ablution block outside because as I said it was a huge place with huge grounds. They built those there and that was I suppose toilets and
showers. I’m trying to think whether we had toilets within the house. There wouldn’t have been enough toilets for all those girls so the toilets must have been downstairs as well which was a bit awkward. I don’t remember getting up at night but I suppose they might have had one or two bathrooms upstairs.
I’m just trying to get my head around the grounds and what they looked like. How big were the grounds?
Several acres around I suppose. I’ve got a picture there somewhere of them.
We were doing an inspection and it was taken in the grounds but you can see what they were. They were very large houses. In Toorak there were several large houses in Clindon Road and they were gradually taken over. The people of course couldn’t look after them. They were used to having gardeners and maids to look after it all and people were being called up. The men were being called up
and they couldn’t run them. And the departments were prepared to rent them, they were rented, and they had to give them back in the situation that they’d received them or taken them over so that’s what happened. There were quite a lot of very large houses that were taken over. Real mansions were taken over in the Toorak area.
How big was the house that you were based at?
I don’t know it’s hard to tell you. It had a
bathroom, a huge bathroom, with a lead bath and it was about 4 foot deep. It was up to here [indicates]. And you’d sort of cock your leg right over to get in and the water would get cold very quickly. But we weren’t using that. They didn’t use that. I couldn’t tell you really how big. It was one of these homes with a beautiful big staircase going round and up and the rooms were all off it and it had
big rooms. I don’t even recall that we had a sitting room. I think you used to stay in your own rooms because the girls were all ready for bed by the time you got back there I can assure you. I don’t think we ate there. You ate at St. Catherine’s. You got trucked there. The truck used to gather us up in the morning and take us around to St. Catherine’s which was also just in Toorak on Glenferrie Road I think at
Toorak. You’d go up Toorak Road and around the corner and then there was St. Catherine’s. It was a girls’ private school and they’d taken it over. And that was why it had big tennis courts and things for drill and all that.
And back at your living quarters how many girls per room?
In our room we would have had I reckon 10. That’s only a rough estimate. They were very, very big rooms. And the
beds were fairly close together. It was a bit like going into a ward I suppose in a hospital but there was enough room in between that we had a little dressing table and a combination hanging space, wardrobe. A wardrobe and a little chest like a dressing table. Do you know what I mean when I say that? I think we must have each had one of those.
There was one allotted to each girl to hang your gear in.
Were they allotted or were you able to pick?
They were alongside your bed. I think we chose wherever we wanted to go with our sleeping because some girls would have been friends and they wanted to be next to each other. Where was Flora? Flora had a sister and brother-in-law. Her sister was married and in Melbourne at the time because I know she
stayed with them after we came off our rookies. I think Flora might have been at St. Catherine’s. I can’t really recall just where she was. By my friend and I, my other friend, we were together.
And what was the name of the other friend?
Her name was Hilda Nephine – no her name was Hilda Driscoll, she was unmarried then.
And we used to just call her Dris. She was just called Dris. You only heard her last name, we never called her Hilda.
And when you got into these rooms did you become aware that there was no privacy?
Yes, I suppose you did. You just hid yourself as much as you could I suppose. I think that is the
hardest part when you’ve been on your own and had your own room at home and all that sort of thing, having to share those sort of quarters with people. I can’t recall going down for our showers. They weren’t open. They were little cubicles for showering that we had.
Where did you go for privacy?
You didn’t get any I suppose.
I don’t know you just always together with your friends. And you were so flat out in those days. You’d be doing a little bit of learning that you’d had during the day. You had to learn up what you were doing because we all got examined in the end and had to pass and know what we were about. I think when we came back to our rooms – you could go outside and
skylark in the garden I suppose if you wanted to or on the verandas but mostly I don’t recall that we even had a sitting room where you could go down and loll about and read. I think you just went into your rooms and lolled about on the beds and talked. You know what girls are like they’re always talking. We talked and had fun and games. We always used to have fun. My friend next to me she was hopeless and she was a very untidy girl and everything got
stuffed into her new dilly bag and when she wanted anything she’d just upend it on the floor and go through it looking for what she wanted. She was a terror. We were all issued with navy blue bloomers, can you imagine? They were in a cotton knit like your T-shirts are made of. We’d have fun and games and we’d pull them down over and we’d leave our shirts on or you’d take your
shirt off or whatever and then we’d pull these things down below our knees and we’d dance around and carry on. They were always referred to as “bloomers blue, air women for the use of.” That’s how it would be listed on the equipment calendar of scale of clothing to be allotted. Bloomers, blue, air women for the use of.” That was the
air force jargon for putting it down. We always used to laugh at that, these awful bloomers. I don’t think you had to wear them if you didn’t want to. I can’t remember if I did or not. I tell you what they were nice and warm in the winter and Melbourne was very cold. It would be no place for scanties [small underwear] underneath a uniform I can assure you.
What was the average age of all the girls?
I was 21 and my
two friends of course were 21 and you had to be 18 to get in so there must have been a few that were in the 18,19 or 20 group. There were not many at 18 I don’t think. It was probably 19 or 20. There were a couple of girls we thought were over the hill and they were about 27 or 28. They were older women but only one or two.
I suppose the average age must have been around 22 or 23 wouldn’t you say? There were not many older. There were a few older women as you went through the service through the years who went in as cooks. They were older women who perhaps had no children or their children were off their hands because I think in the early days they wouldn’t take married women. Later they did.
I think in the early days if you wanted to get married I think you had to leave the services. I think that was the drill [rules]. They changed all that as things got so serious and they needed all the women they had to change. They had to go with the flow as they say.
Were any of the girls homesick?
I think a few of them were, I think a few of them were homesick. That’s another thing we were always doing, we were writing
letters at night time so you didn’t have too much time. And you were always so tired after your day’s activities at marching and exercise and all this business and drill. There was all this drill we got all the time. We were marching up and down and reversing and doing all sorts of fancy things. It stood us in good stead though when you got out on to your stations and things because they had a lot of that in the early days.
I didn’t sort of see any girls that were really homesick but I did hear of one or two that were really homesick. I don’t think any girls were ever sent home. It took a bit of adjustment and I think girls that hadn’t been in an organisation like I’d been in, the WATC – my two friends hadn’t been in it, the girls that I palled up with, they’d never been in it – it was all so strange this marching and
drill and stuff. But for we girls that had been in the WATC it was a piece of cake because we’d been doing it. We were trained by sergeants, drill sergeants, so we knew the drill and that stood us in good stead. A few girls I think were homesick and it was an awful and terrible shock. That happens anywhere. It happens to the boys too.
How did the girls
respond to the discipline that comes with being in the air force?
I don’t know. I think most of them took it in their stride. I think most of the girls were accepting of it. I think they probably realised that joining up to a facility like that they’d have to abide by the rules and be drilled about and all that. I think most of hem accepted the discipline.
They’d soon get told off if they didn’t anyway. They would probably be taken away and it would be, “ACW pull your socks up. You’ve got to do this and that and the other.” I thought some of the WAAAF Officers at that stage were a bit grim. When I look back now I just wonder – question mark!
Interviewee: Pamela Penglase Archive ID 1737 Tape 04
You just mentioned what it was like when the girls got your uniforms. How did you get your uniforms?
We were just issued them from the equipment store which I think would have been at St. Catherine’s. And I suppose they’d say, “What size are you?” And there was no way of measuring or having them tailored. I think that was left to you. Mine came
down over my fingers just about but we were all just so proud that we’d finally got ourselves into uniforms. The shirts were very stiff material. They were almost like a denim but they were just a bit softer than denim. And then with our ties we were all having trouble learning how to tie a tie. Then of course we had our caps. Your
hair was supposed to be two inches above your collar. Any girls that had long hair when they were doing inspections, when we were doing fall ins and one of the officers were inspecting, if they had long hair they were inclined to tip their heads down. That friend of mine, Chris, she was a great one and she always had her hair too long. She would tip her head down as they went past which would make it above the collar and then when they went past she’d put her head up.
It was great fun getting into uniforms and then of course we would take them and get them tailored somewhere. I think we must have had a tailor. There was such a mustering as tailor because they had to adjust men’s uniforms and things. And we’d have them shortened. It was mostly the cuffs and they were all I suppose pretty generous. I suppose they were small, medium and large. I don’t really know the
sizes but I suppose there was great excitement. Then of course we had the night off and we all went down to Luna Park, well our group did, and as you saw by those photos we stood by a plane. They were taking photos at Luna Park. They had a plane, a mock plane, with the steps going in and we stood up on that and had our photos taken. I think it was the nearest I ever got to a plane at that stage anyway.
What was that feeling like when you put the uniform on?
It was really
pleasing. We really felt we’d finally made it. We’d got through all the drills and the exams and things that we had. The exams were only minor but they had to be there the few I suppose. It was really good and we felt it. We felt at least we were getting somewhere and we were waiting for the big posting. Nobody knew where they were going at that stage that didn’t come out until later.
You also made a mention of the tinea
Yes you see with the ablutions block they always used to have to be very careful with the multitude of people using it like you do with showers at the beach and that. There must have been an outbreak of tinea in the toes. And of course we all had to go on parade and the female doctor inspected our toes. Then there were big basins with
Condies Crystals which were the cure for it. After that there was always a bowl of Condies Crystals in the shower, in the ablutions block. When you finished your shower you had to step into that first before you stepped out and dried your feet. And you had to be meticulous about getting your feet dry between the toes. I only had a mild outbreak of it. Quite a few of the girls got it and it’s very easy to spread in those circumstances.
That was all. It was nothing too dramatic.
You were all fairly much strangers before you got to WAAAF and there was a lot of excitement but once the excitement died down was there any cattiness amongst the girls?
I didn’t ever notice any. There was a great camaraderie between us and that still exists today. You’ve only got to come up against a girl that’s
been in one of the services, it doesn’t have to be the air force it could be the army or the navy and you immediately click. There is that feeling. The men have it and so do the girls. You get together and it doesn’t matter if you were in the army or the air force but you just click. I don’t know but it’s just something about it. You’ve got a common interest. You’ve been there and done all that. You’ve each done it in your respective services. That’s just that
feeling you get.
What was your pay when you first started at WAAAF?
I don’t know. I’d have to consult my pay book over there. I can’t tell you off hand. It wasn’t very much. It might have been 5 shillings or something a day. I really don’t know. Did you check the pay books over there?
No I’m just wondering because the WAAAF pay was considerably lower than what the men in the forces were receiving?
Yes I think it was something like two thirds. We were getting something like two thirds. The WAAAF director was always fighting to get the money equal. She was a wonderful director. She was Clare Stevenson. She had been a CEO [Chief Executive Officer] as you’d call it today in the Berlei Corset Company for bras and corsets and what have you.
She had a high position there and she was a wonderful person to get the best out of it. She was determined that women should get equal pay. She was a real feminist. My granddaughter thinks I was a feminist. She says, “Nana you were one of the first of the feminists” because I joined up. She thought I was a real feminist.
How did you feel about not having equal pay?
I thought it wasn’t fair. You had a girl rigger there and a boy rigger and they were both doing the same job and the girl is getting much less pay. In the old days I used to think that he’s married and he’s got children to keep and his expenses are much more than a single person. But once you get into the services you don’t think like that and not everybody is like that they’re not all married anyway. I thought it was a bit unfair but it
didn’t worry me and I was there doing what I wanted to do irrespective of pay. But she was always fighting to get it brought up more and closer to the men’s.
Did you ever meet Clare?
Do you want to talk of my officer time? I can tell those stories later. I was saying that some of the officers that we had at St. Catherine’s there were some very feminine ones and there were some
very masculine ones and I often wondered. They were just very masculine I suppose.
Who were your officers at St. Catherine’s?
There was Squadron Officer Blackwood. She was an intellectual and came from university and she was a very smart lady. She was a big woman but again a bit on the masculine side. There were some other ones who were very feminine.
You get all sorts. You do in any company you work in there are always some very feminine girls and also some a bit on the masculine side. Isn’t that right? You’ve come across them. It doesn’t matter.
How did the girls respond to their officers?
Mostly very good. It was very good. I respected them very much. I wasn’t out on a unit like a squadron, out in the back blocks at the flying training
schools and so forth so I haven’t got a perspective of being on a unit out in the countryside. My experience has all been headquarters or in training group and that was virtually a headquarters but it was located in the country at Wagga [Wagga Wagga]. So I’ve got a different way of looking at things perhaps.
staying with your rookie training what was your daily routine?
We were up early and showered. I’m pretty sure we were trucked, air force trucks came, and I’m pretty sure we had mostly until we were given uniforms we did get the issue of those overalls and I think that’s what we used to do most of our exercises in and
marching and drill and all that. We went up and down the parade ground and there was quite a lot involved in that. They’d make you go this way and that way and all sorts of ways. I like all that. I liked the drill and stuff and having done it already it wasn’t new to me. Some girls, you know, they loped along and they didn’t know their left from the right. You’ve only got to see them sometimes on the television you can see the new ones and they sort of lope. It was good fun.
Then after we’d had drill and all that we’d be shunted off to lectures to learn about air force procedure and “esprit de corps.” That was the feeling, this esprit de corps, the closeness and keeping together and helping each other and the spirit of the service. You learned that and you seemed to just learn that anyway.
How would you describe the esprit de corps?
I think just being proud of your service and doing nothing to spoil the image and work with each other well and interlinking. I think that was just the main thing and respecting the officers of course. I was only an ACW in those days. You respected the officers and you did as you were told. You didn’t answer
back or anything you’d be in trouble if you did.. That was the main thing. I can always remember I was – we were getting our food and I’m sure it was at St. Catherine’s – I think later on they had mess cooking at Orong. I’m not sure of my memory. We lined up with our plates because you’d have to go up to get served. We were in this
and a corporal she was a disciplinary girl, she was walking up and down and I said, “Hi there Cookie, what’s for lunch?” And she marched up to me and she said, “What did you call her?” And she had eyes like a cold fish and her nose was just about touching mine. I said, “I just called her Cookie.” She said, “You don’t speak to her like that. You leave here and you do a fatigue
tonight and you can come back in and help in the kitchen doing washing up to.” And I had to and we’d just had our injections and I had an arm that I could hardly lift. I had to go in and help with the washing up doing the saucepans and things. I think I was only wiping up. But I’d just said in a friendly way ,“Hi there Cookie what’s for lunch?” as we went along. She was a real cold fish and I saw her many times after and then every
time I’d be scared stiff of her. Even when I was an officer and she became a warrant officer disciplinary later on. She rose as far as that but she didn’t get any further she never made an officer. But she always was a cold, cold fish and she always scared me. I suppose she must have scared the other girls too when she was dealing out discipline.
That was all. That was he only time I struck her or had any trouble by being a bit friendly.
Now the women’s service it was very new and rookie service was modelled for men. What changes did they make to the rookie changes to accommodate for the women?
I don’t know that they did anything in particular. I wouldn’t know really. It just seemed the same as what the men had. It was
drill, and marching and drill. And when they were finished if they had to be trained they went to training. I don’t think they really made much difference. When it came to route marches they mightn’t have marched girls as far as they marched the men but we didn’t do much as far as route marches there. I did a few more route march type of things when I was at
Albert Park. In fact Flora my friend she was hopeless with drill. She had this flight this morning where they had to go and do a short route march before they started in the office in the equipment section where she was. She was at Victoria Barracks. She marched them down the end of the street and she didn’t know the order to turn them around. They all got to the end of the street and she didn’t know what to do with them. I think they got themselves out of the
pickle but it was a real laugh and we often laugh about it now. When we get together we laugh incessantly about the things we did. People must think we’re crazy. I used to get together with friends and go to lunch here about once a month. We can’t now because she’s so sick. And my other friend is not 100% either. I’m the best physically of them all.
Well we’re glad to have you with us.
Yes and I’m glad still to be here I can tell you.
With the esprit de corps I’m just wondering what could women do to show disrespect towards the service?
I don’t really think that many women would have because they wouldn’t have joined up unless they had respect and regard and wanted to be in it. It was all voluntary you weren’t force into it
not like men who were called up and so forth. No, most of the girls seemed to be happy in the service and that was the idea to keep them happy and they had respect for their officers. It’s not so much the person it’s they stand for and the reputation of the air force.
What I’m asking is what they taught you about how to keep respect for the air force and the
service. Were there rules and guidelines set down?
There were rules and guidelines that you paid respect by saluting them. You weren’t saluting the uniform, you were saluting the Queen. What the uniform stood for was the Queen or the King in those days. You showed respect and I don’t think there was anything
particular that I can really recall. It was just something that I think developed with the history of the service. They would have given us all the history and what they’d done in the past in so forth and of course with all the fellows flying and getting killed and one thing or another. I think the esprit de corps was just
something that developed. I really couldn’t put my finger on it. They just probably gave us the history of the service and the achievements of the service and the flying all that and it was just showing respect I guess. I can’t really think of anything. That is something that just develops I think through the closeness of being all together and all being of the same
idea as it were.
What was the oath that you took?
I’ve no idea. I can’t remember. Does it say we took an oath?
I’m asking if you did?
I don’t recall that. I honestly don’t recall. When we first joined up we were if I remember rightly enrolled. And then a couple of years later it went through
parliament that we were enlisted. There was something to do with the legality of it all. I was reading there in that book of mine how it all went through parliament and the air board and so on. I’m not sure whether we signed or whether we took an oath but we all had to sign a document that we agreed to enlist. It swapped from being called “enrolled” to “enlisted” because in the early
days we were just enrolled. I’d forgotten all that until I read the book and then I thought, “I remember we all had to be enlisted,” those that were already in.
What year was that? Was that a couple of years later?
Yes, it was probably a couple of years later.
Who was giving you this training at rookie school?
The WAAAF Officers. They
pulled in just to be the nucleus so many women. One of them was an Olympic hurdler. She was a flight officer then, Doris Carter. She had been in the Olympics earlier as a hurdler and I think she got a gold medal and everything. And there was this Blackwood who was an intellectual from the university and
Lords was another one. She had some high qualifications. There were various women that had high positions in business and as I said the WAAAF CO [Commanding Officer] herself had been head of Berlei. They got trained, by reading the book I understand they had a training course, because they had to have women and be told what they could and couldn’t do and how to run it and so
forth so they trained us and then they had air force drill instructors and so forth to give us all the drill and marching and to teach us the badges of rank. You had to know the various ranks in the various services. It wasn’t only ours you had to know the army and the navy to a degree. You had to know who they all were but certainly in the air force you had to know all the ranks. And of course the different women did that and
they also had to keep all the records of us and what we were doing and where we were going and what we’d been issued with. They had to start keeping all those records.
So at the beginning what was your first rank?
ACW. Aircraft Woman. That’s what it was, ACW. Then the men, Leading Aircraft Men.
The girls are aircraft women and then I think they went to corporal and sergeant and flight sergeant and warrant officer and then you were officer rank.
So your drill instructors were men?
Yes, they were air force men.
How did they like it?
I think they quite enjoyed it. I bet they got ragged [teased] by their fellows but they quite enjoyed it.
I suppose it was a bit cushy for them. They’d yell out, “Lift up your feet” and, “Don’t you know your left foot from your right?,” and the usual jargon that they’d use. They were very nice. That corporal that I was talking of she must have come in very early because as I said we were called up in October but they’d been starting them in March. So the officers would have all been
started. And there was the initial intake of odd ones. I don’t think they had any establishments for rookies, for the girls, other than in Melbourne at that point. Later on the girls went to the different ones as the boys had done, the girls went to different ones in each state. With us they had all come from the other states as well. Some were from
Melbourne and some were from West Australia and Queensland and New South Wales. So they all came down to Melbourne and we did our rookies there but later they were spread out to the various states where they had training depots.
How did you spend your spare time during rookie training?
We were all tired. There was letter writing and doing your laundry. You had your own washing and everything to
do, not your bed linin and your towels, they were all done by the services but you’d do your personal washing and shirts. We spent a lot of time keeping our shirts nice. We used to starch the epaulettes on them and sometimes they’d be too stiff. If your starch got too thick your shirt would stand up by itself. And once we got the uniforms we would keep them all nice. That was most of the time and then you’d do a bit of
study on what you’d learned for the day. You’d try and refresh your memory and learn that because you got examined at the end in all that. I can’t remember what. It was just to get an idea of how we were going. That was all. I think that was mainly what we did. We got the odd night’s leave and then off we went to Luna Park or something as I showed you in that picture. Or we’d go to the pictures. There was a
picture theatre there in Toorak on Toorak Road. That was called the village there at Toorak. It was down in Toorak Village. That was a very nice spot.
Was this your first time in Melbourne?
Yes it was the first time I’d been away from home. I’d been with my aunt and uncle that I mentioned earlier, I’d been to Melbourne with them on one occasion. And I’d been to Sydney with them. We did a tour by car. He had a nice
car and we went through Melbourne and up to Sydney and we toured around and came home again. So I had actually been there but it was my first trip away on the train and all that sort of stuff.
How were you coping with your new-found independence?
Very well. I enjoyed it immensely. Everybody was moaning and groaning and sore when you had your injections and vaccinations. They gave you vaccinations and
injections for typhoid and all this sort of stuff. I don’t know whether it was typhoid but it was diphtheria probably and I can’t remember all the others. Then, as I said, I had to do kitchen fatigue that night as well so that was bad. My arm was so sore. “Why have I joined up?” I think it might have dispirited me a bit. I did enjoy it.
What was Melbourne like during the war years?
I got to know Melbourne very well and I liked Melbourne. Overall I had four years – how long was I in the service? It was 1941 to 1946 so I had five years of which 16 months was in Wagga and the rest of the time in Melbourne. I got to know Melbourne very well and it was like a second home. I’ve always liked Melbourne.
It’s a big place now and I’ve been over for holidays. I enjoyed it then. It was quite nice finding my way around places.
How long were you in rookie training?
I think it was about a month. I think if I look it up in my pay book there I’ll see how long it was but I think it was about a month.
It could have been six weeks but I don’t think it was much longer than that. It might have been longer. I should have looked it up to tell you properly.
Where did you want to be posted at the end of your rookie training?
I was hoping to go far away, you know, to Townsville or Brisbane or even Sydney or Perth. I knew I wouldn’t go out on a
station or I didn’t expect to. I didn’t know what my expectations were because as a clerk general I expected to go where there was a lot of bookwork and messes and typing and all that stuff. They had an Air Force Headquarters – while I didn’t do any while I was posted there but they had what they called a civilian pool. The civilians in the public service – any letters that had to be
typed went to that civilian pool. The senior officers and any letters and things they wanted they all went there were typed and then were sent back to the various departments. That’s why we weren’t required to do typing and shorthand, whether they did that out on units I’m not sure. You see if the CO wanted to send a letter to headquarters and if he wanted it typed out no doubt he must have had someone in what they called the
orderly room. So no doubt in the orderly room they used clerk generals for typing.
So you wanted to go far away?
I didn’t really mind. Anywhere in the air force was all right.
You ended up staying in Melbourne?
Yes, it was a big disappointment. I was one of four and we went to the Department of Postings. And we were the first four girls to go there.
They hadn’t had girls before. That was the first big posting because mostly as I said they were WTs and signals and they would have gone to the Signal Headquarters places. They would have had girls there and their wireless stations and stuff were quite separate. We were the first call up to go to be sent around and I was one of the first four girls to go there. We were a bit of a
curiosity at first. The boys were all agog and they thought, “This is all right, 4 girls.” It was very good and I enjoyed it. I liked handling big books, record books, and people who got posted and where they’d gone. I kept track of people and where they were etcetera. That’s the most that I can remember
about it. You were directed by a warrant officer. He’d be in charge of the room where all the boys were and the girls and we all had a desk or a table. And then the officers all had their own special rooms where they were and they’d come in and out occasionally.
So these men in the Department of Postings had been working amongst themselves for quite some time and then suddenly in come these four women. How did
the dynamics change in the office?
I suppose they did a bit. I suppose they were all a bit keen to be talking to the girls. One boy was very friendly with me. I didn’t every go out with him or anything but he used to always come around and have a chat and so forth. It was quite a novelty to have girls. We got on with our work, we weren’t there for that. We weren’t there for
romance we were there to get on with it for the services.
It sounds like you had a very professional attitude?
Yes. We were there to do a job. That was the idea to release these boys to go out in the front line. That’s what it was all about.
Describe for me the Headquarters the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] headquarters that you worked in and the structure of the building. Where
It was on St. Kilda Road. It was permanent of corse. They were beautiful big buildings it was all lovely stone and they were government-style type buildings. There were a lot of two-storey or three storey which ivy growing up them, Virginia creeper, you know how it does? All those buildings and it was cut around the windows and
doorways because it had been there many, many years. It was right on St. Kilda Road and behind them there were other buildings. That’s all I can remember of them going along. I believe they even do a tour through them now and the War Rooms, what they called the War Rooms, down the stairs somewhere.
Where was your office?
I was just in this big orderly room. It was just
rows of desks, you either had a desk or a table. And that was up on the first floor I think it was where Postings was located.
You described that you had a big book full of the postings what was your job?
I was one of many I suppose. It’s very hard for me to recall now really because it was only a short time
that I was there before I went off on an officers course. I was there in October and when did I go? It was the next October. It was about 12 months I had there I suppose. It must have been about 12 months and then I went off to the officers training. We just had these big
books and they were all lined up like I’ve got books lined up there. We’d get them out and I think we were given signals and things, like a telegram, of where so and so was posted. And you’d open up the book or go and get the book with his name and enter it up. I can’t remember a lot about it or anything else that we did. It was that sort of thing. And promotions, when people got promoted in
rank from various ranks and you had to keep a record of that. It was mostly officers as I remember that we looked after. There was another big department there called Records and they dealt with everybody other than officers there. And their records were all kept there. Where I was it was all officers records that we were keeping and where they were as they were posted around and if they got killed or
if they were a prisoner of war and all that information had to go down on these big sheets. I think that’s basically what it was all about but I certainly never touched a typewriter or did any shorthand. I was a bit disappointed from that point of view but that’s what I had to do. That’s basically what we were doing at headquarters.
Although these names were anonymous to you, these officers whose
records were recording, how did you feel when you were recording whether they were a prisoner of war?
You felt a bit sad about it of course but that was war. It was wartime and you expected that some of them were going to get killed or taken prisoner. I had a friend overseas at that stage, a boy I’d met here. And he was over in
10 Squadron in Wales. I used to correspond with him. So I was interested always in the air force. He was a pilot in flying boats. He had to do a forced landing and ditched in the sea. With these things you expected to come cross them but it was always sad
and especially if it happened to be someone you knew. It was always very sad. I felt I had more of that when I was at Wagga because you got to know the girls more in the ranks because you had a lot more that you were dealing with and you were closer to them. One of those lost her brother I think it was.
Was there a friend that you lost? Your friend at 10 Squadron he
Yes, he survived and came back. We’d grown apart by then. I’d grown up by then. I always look back and think that I was very naive as a youngster and I think I’d just grown up and he’d stood still so we grew apart.
How were the departments organised at headquarters?
You had the Air Board at the very
top and then it was broken down into lots of big headings. It was almost like a genealogy tree with Mum and Dad and the top and the children and then gradually going down. The AMP was the Air Member for Personnel and I was always mixed up in personnel. When I became an Officer I was a personnel officer because I was always dealing with personnel. From
AMP one of the departments was the Director of Postings and that’s how I was in that department. It was Postings and Promotions. And another thing we used to do , and I think we also did it at Wagga, was prepare things to go into the Air Force Gazette which is sort of the bible for everything for all the whereabouts and
promotions of people and that sort of thing. It wasn’t so much the whereabouts but promotions. We used to have to prepare the list of people that had been promoted and so forth and get it ready to go into the Gazette and go further up the line. Everything went through its steps and we were the lesser ones right down the bottom. I did more of that when I got to Wagga but we did do that also.
Whilst you were act headquarters you were also promoted to corporal?
Yes. I was acting corporal first. It was only a couple of months and I was an acting corporal and I was very important at that stage and hen later on I was confirmed as a corporal. Sometimes you get acting well usually it is acting first to see how you go and then it is confirmed. I was a full corporal after a few months. When I went on the officers
course I was a corporal.
Did you feel that you had personally changed in WAAAF as well – your rank had changed by did you personally change?
When I was a corporal?
No, that was only small fry. No you are responsible and they probably might make you responsible for certain things and you’re aware of your
responsibility whereas if you’re an ACW well you’ve got to look after that and that’s your part of the bargain. I don’t think it makes much difference to be honest, not corporal. You can’t cheek a corporal or a sergeant or a flight sergeant. If they tell you to do something they’re supposed to do it. And the orders come down the line and the corporal and she’s the last of the line and you do as you’re told.
Interviewee: Pamela Penglase Archive ID 1737 Tape 05
Before we move on to your officer training, Pam, one thing that did happen when you were in Melbourne was that the Japanese entered the war in December 1941. How do you think the mood changed at HQ [Headquarters] once the Japanese entered the war?
I think everybody was quite shocked and every determined then
and conscientious then about everything they did because they realised as it moved along that it got very close to us. We began to think we’d have the Japs running around the streets before long. It was really, really serious. The whole situation was quite serious and we were all very anxious.
I’m also wondering whether there were any other changes in
Melbourne that you saw. I’m wondering about blackouts and things like that?
Yes I think they had blackouts around. They dug some slit trenches in case of air raids and they were building shelters and things as I recall. We used to have practice air raids and we had to grab these
books. I had to grab these great big books. I could hardly carry it off the desk let alone run with it. I remember one of the boys said, “I’ll be rushing off myself so don’t worry about the book.” I thought, “You’re awful.” We had a few practices with that, running with the books with you, downstairs and out into the shelter area. We had to practice it but of course we never, ever got to do it so it didn’t come to anything as far as that was concerned.
Things were really serious and I think it was a horrible jolt to everybody when that happened. It was an awful shock to people. It sort of did come out of the blue almost as far as we were aware. People with their ear to the ground might have known a lot more but to the ordinary person it was a real shock when the Japs came into the war.
What other news filtered down to HQ because not long after the Japanese entered the war Darwin was bombed early in 1942?
That was another reason that made us realise, the Darwin business, how close they were getting
and it could be only a matter of time before they got right down to Melbourne and all the main cities. It was a very worrying time for everyone. We were very aware that the war was getting closer. It was away in Germany before the Japs came in, in Europe, and it seems a long way away but once they’re bombing Darwin it’s not far off is it?
I remember when I got to Wagga because there as still the threat of it and I suppose the continual bombing there and this boyfriend I had then in Wagga he said he’d give me a revolver and if any Japs came for me I was to shoot myself. He didn’t want me to fall into the hands of any Japs, what a horrible thought that
Just before we go on to Wagga you were required to go to officer training?
Where was that conducted?
That was at Melbourne University. The air force had taken over part of it and we were in certain halls of residence. We moved into -
what was mine called? I saw it in the book there but I can’t think of it now. The men were in one building and we were in another. They were halls of residence and we lived there. We came together on the oval to do our marching and drill and all that. We went back and did all that again.
Then we went to various lecture rooms for our lectures and things on the usual administration of the air force and so forth. I can’t remember the other thing but there was badges of rank and that was most important at that stage and they were for all the other services as well. You had to know all the other services. I can’t think of any
Were you selected or did you apply?
No, I never ever applied. I got called in one day by one of the officers at DP [Department of Postings], in Postings, and he said, “We’re thinking of recommending you to go on an officers’ course.” And I said, “Would I be qualified enough?” because I only had an Intermediate. I knew girls who had degrees and things. He said, “Oh
yes, you’re the right sort of person. You’re good at this that and the other and you are what they’re looking for so we’re be recommending you.” He said, “Are you happy about it?” I said, “Yes.” I was most impressed that they thought this. Then I had to go before the board. I can’t remember much about that really but they just ask you a few details and things. I was accepted and then I was called up in due course
to the School of Administration it was called at the university. That is where it was located. There were a couple of WAAAF Officers there that were running different courses on it and there were men running other courses. I can’t remember much about what we did there. We went on a bivouac and that was to test the hard ones and the soft ones I suppose. We got very wet and I don’t
know that I was very keen on bivouacs. We were in tents. We had to wear our overalls and we were under tents. There was one hardy one and she was always doing things. She went bathing in the creek, there was a creek where we were, and it was freezing cold and there she is having a good old splash in the creek with her bathers on or something. I don’t remember. She was one of the hearty ones. She
swung the axe and chopped the wood and all that. We all got very wet when it rained. Anyway it was just a test to tell the sheep from the lambs I suppose. It was fun I suppose but I thought, “What a foolish idea having us do bivouacs.” However, it all went off all right.
What sort were you?
I was one that went along with it I think. I was always capable of doing things
but, you know, there’s all these girls that had been girl guides and they had to show their stuff. They’d been there and done that. I always laugh about that one that was in the freezing cold water there and she was splashing herself in it. I was never a Girl Guide. My mother said, “I can teach you to boil water.” She wasn’t keen on the Girl Guides and so forth and the Brownies.
What sort of skill or personality do you think they saw in you to select you for officer’s school?
I was a bit of a leader and I think that was probably the primary thing. I’m a quick person and catch on quickly – I did in those days anyway. I think I would be popular with the girls. I got on well with all my friends and the girls. No one stood out.
I was friendly with them all. That is what they said, they said, “You’ve got leadership qualities” and I suppose I must have. I could take a lead. If I was asked to do something I’d be away and doing it. While others were thinking about it I would have got the job done. I’ve always been that sort of a person.
When you went to officers’ school what
happened to your mates Flora and Dris?
Flora was on the course before me. She had been selected. She had her Leaving so she was academically well qualified and they were desperate for all officers. The service was expanding at such a rate and the girls were all getting called up and one thing and another that they had to
find officers, male as well as female, for the various squadrons and branches and various training establishments and so on. Flora was working in the Equipment Department and they must have thought she was OK so she went on it. She was a quieter person than me and I could say a little bit more timid. She was the youngest in a family of five
girls and she was the baby and I think she had been pampered a bit at home. She wasn’t as easy going perhaps as I was or used to be and being in the WATC that would sort of knock the corners off you. Anyway, she got selected and she was on the course before me. I was on the next one. She got posted to the West and that was only the time that she went to the West and
Dris and I were left together. We are up to when I was at Postings. When we finished doing our rookies’ course we had to find accommodation. Flora, of course, went to stay with her sister who stayed in Melbourne and Dris and I went into that guest home. I did mention that before. We were there together, the
two of us, and we shared a room. We had a room there. They were huge rooms. They were nearly the size of this house. We had a big room there and we shared that together. From there we’d go off to the office. And Dris worked in Equipment as well. She and Flora were in Equipment. They landed in the same spot. And I was the one in Postings and we were all at headquarters at that stage.
Did Dris do your
No. She’s a bit away with the fairies sometimes. She’s a nice girl, a lovely person, but she’s a bit more – not genteel, I wouldn’t say genteel but she’s a country girl. No, she was perhaps not quite as forceful. That’s perhaps the word but she’s a great person just the same. We were all different. The
three of us were all different but we’ve always been great friends though, always.
At the end of that six-week officer training what sort of passing out or ceremony was there?
We had a proper passing out ceremony with the CO of the School of Administration and possibly some of the officers from Air Force Headquarters,
senior men. Then we were all in squadrons and flights and there was a proper marching out and giving of salute to the senior officer there and all that sort of thing. It was just like the men would have. Then we were dispersed. It was good. They all said to me I’d make a wonderful WOD [Warrant Officer Discipline]. I’ve got a real parade ground voice. I actually took the
position as the WOD on the march past. You’d have one that is out the front. It’s not the leader in the middle but they usually had the WOD on one side and I was that.
What’s the responsibility of the WOD?
Just to make sure they get in all the orders and having to pass the orders down in a loud, clear voice. It was fun. When I look back on it, it was great fun.
Where were you sent after officers’ school?
Then of course I was sent to Wagga. I can’t remember but I think we might come home on leave first because we’d been there for a month or six weeks or whatever it was so we were all granted leave and went home to wherever we came from. Then we received our postings. I assume we got our postings straight away as to where we were to go. I was to report to 2 Training Group Headquarters at
What did you do on that leave home?
I just went home and saw my parents and caught up. I don’t know whether Ron was home then or not but as I said to you earlier we often got leave at the same time. It just happened to be coincidental that it did coincide. That’s how it happened I think. It was luck of the draw. He wasn’t home
that often. I got home perhaps a bit more often.
How did your uniform change?
You got an officers’ uniform. I think, I can’t remember very much, I think you reported to a tailor and had it made. I don’t think they had officers’ uniform hanging up. Men are all shapes and sizes and girls are too for that matter.
I think I had it made in Adelaide. It was Flehr I think. He had a big tailoring business. I don’t think it exists any more but it was in Gawler Place and I think I had my uniforms made there, or one, a summer one and a winter one.
Was that paid for by you or the air force?
The air force. I think it was just straight out air force.
That is a bit of a mystery now to me how I got it but you must have had to get it done quickly because you were only home for a few days so it had to be done very quickly. They wouldn’t have had any that they could issue you with. They might have had your stripe. You might have had your ring given to you and that had to be sewn on by the tailor. Other than that I don’t really
know. I had a summer one that was light and then a winter one which was air force blue in those days. air force blue is a bit more navy than that. The RAF [Royal Air Force] were more into the blue/grey but had more navy.
How did you travel from Adelaide to your posting at Wagga?
You had an RTO, a Railway Transport Officer. That’s a posting of an air force person and they had to control the moving of people in and out for the service because there were constantly people going. I would have just reported to the RTO’s office at Adelaide station. There was one in each station.
and then been issued with a ticket to go to Melbourne and then going on again to Wagga. I went up by train because the Sydney train goes through Wagga. I just got off at Wagga and I think I was picked up there. I was sent a car or a truck or whatever and I’d sit in front with the driver. It could have been a car. And then I was taken to where I was to be domiciled.
That was in Wagga. The air force took over the courthouse for their officers for the Training Group Headquarters and next door was what they called the “Sheriff’s Cottage” behind a great high wall. They had about 8 WAAAF Officers in there. It was two to a room I think. I think it was about that. So
that’s where I lived then. The air force had also taken over several hotels. They had one for the boys and the girls were at what they called the WAAAFERY. The WAAAF were in that hotel and the boys were in another one further down. The girls would have had certain WAAAF Officers who would have been trained and it was their duty to run that headquarters where they were. They’d look after the girls and
discipline them and see that no shenanigans went on and all that sort of things. With lights out they would go round. The girls at the Sheriff’s Cottage we had to go on a roster to go over at night, I’m not sure whether it was 10 o clock or when it was, but when lights were out. You’d check that all the girls were there in their beds and lights out and all this caper. They weren’t allowed to have the lights on. I suppose they put some of them on after we
went. That was quite fun. I’ve just remembered that. I hadn’t thought about that. That is where I had this incident. I had sixteen months there so I must have been there for quite a long time because I was very familiar with everything in the cottage where we lived. There were a couple of girls that were
signals girls. They were both signals. That’s like intelligence and sending messages. The girls that do WT were sending messages around and so forth. They shared a room and one of them, she was married, I’m not sure about her but I don’t think she did have a husband, but she lived with her
Mother and she had one child. She’d been allowed to join up anyway so she might have been a widow I don’t know or divorced. She was very feminine and soft. The other girl was inclined to be very masculine and she had her hair short cut, all shaved up the back which was unusual in those days. And she was very slim. She was a bit on the masculine side. She was very nice. I got on extremely
well with them. They were very, very friendly, “friendly.” And DWAAAF [Director of WAAAF] must have had some things reported to her. And the next think DWAAAF came up and made some enquiries and of course she must have seen the group leader who was in charge of all the WAAAFs in the Wagga Area and she lived in the hotel. She would have had a lot of
words with her. Then I got called into the office where she was at that particular time. “Cook” she said, “What do you know about so and so and so and so?” “Madam” (of course, Madam) “They are awfully nice. They are very friendly girls. They are often there together on the bed. They are very friendly and they’re always holding hands.” I was completely innocent and I had no idea what she was on about. “Are they?” she said. “Yes,
but they are very nice and they are very good friends.” That’s all I could say you see. The next thing I found out, I heard all about it later, that they were – what’s it called, you know, two girls together? Lesbians, they were a pair of lesbians. I didn’t know. I’d never heard the word. I got the dictionary later and look it up and
find out what it was all about. The next thing they were split up and one went to Townsville and one went to Perth. That was the only experience. How serious they were I’ve no idea. I wouldn’t have had any idea. They were just a pair of nice friendly girls as far as I was concerned because the door was always open and that’s how you saw them lying on the bed together. That was just friendly girls. You could be friendly together
reading a book on the bed or something. I don’t know. It never dawned on me that it was anything peculiar. There you are. So that’s how she dealt with it. Of course you were bound to have had some of those incidents. There was sometimes trouble with fellows having their eyes on us and some of them were senior. I know there was an incident there. A girl got upset in some way and a chap got wrapped over the knuckles. She didn’t like him. It would have been
sexual harassment today but you’re bound to get that when you’ve got a group of 30,000 odd women or whatever it was and all the males about the place. That goes on. That was the only incident that I found out about and whether I put the lid on it or not or told her all she wanted to know I don’t know.
“Thank you, Cook” she said. They always called you by your surname, “Cook.”
How much later did you find out what happened to the girls?
I can’t recall it might have been within a week that they were separated. One went to Townsville in signals and the other went to Perth. She had a boyfriend overseas. She was supposed to be engaged, that girl, to a chap in the army overseas.
I suppose that fell by the wayside but whether it did or not I don’t know.
It’s an interesting question. You made mention that you felt very naïve. What sort of sex education did you receive yourself?
None. I can’t even remember my mother talking about it. This aunt of mine,
I told you I had this aunt who used to think I was an adopted daughter or treated me like that, she used to pass me lots of magazines and so on and it would be like the equivalent of Woman’s Day I suppose. And there was New Idea and Homes and Gardens or whatever and they would always be writing in about things and writing to the editor and getting answers and responses. I suppose she might have
pushed those at me with the idea of me finding out about things but I’d don’t ever remember my mother ever telling me anything. Most girls said exactly the same thing. You knew things that went on but even when I went away I had no idea how babies were born. I thought they came out of your belly button. How else could they? When I look back on it that was how naïve I was. And Flora and Dris would
say exactly the same and they didn’t have a clue. It’s ridiculous when you think about it. I’m all in favour of girls today knowing all about it and knowing how to look after themselves. As I said to you I feel it was fear that kept us on the straight and narrow. You wouldn’t let boys get too familiar with you because you never knew what would happen. I have a real idea that it was fear that kept us on the
straight and narrow of what your families would say and what your parents would say. You’d break their hearts if anything went wrong and you had a child out of wedlock and all this caper. It was just dreadful because people used to regard it as terrible.
What sort of advice did the air force give the girls?
I think they had lectures on sexual
matters. The lady doctors gave them. I never, ever sat in on one. I never bothered. I suppose we thought we knew it all. I never, ever did but I know that they gave them the basic things about life. I think that’s all.
You missed out on those lectures?
That was before my time. They must have come later. I was in very early in the piece.
There weren’t that many of us at that stage and I suppose until such time as they got enough girls to go out on the stations and really mix in with the boys out on the stations with squadrons and things that might have been when they decided they’d do something about this, the ignorant things we were. She never ever minced matters our DWAAAF.
She would be well aware that we were pretty naïve about things. Anyway, that’s how it happened.
When DWAAAF was asking you about these two girls did you feel like you were aware of what she was asking about?
No I wasn’t. I was immature. I thought, “I wonder what she wants to know?” I really didn’t. And I don’t think the others girls did either because they said to me, “What did DWAAAF say to you?”
“She just asked me about these two girls.” I can’t even remember their names. I said, “I just said they’re very friendly. They are very nice girls and they’re very friendly and they’re always together and that.” That was all. She would have told me off if she realised I didn’t know it. She probably would have told me off because she never minced matters and if she thought you were a fool she would have told you so,
DWAAAF. She was straight and she didn’t muck about.
What sort of buzz went around?
I don’t think anything did go around. I think it was all kept very quiet. I probably confirmed what she must have heard form the other WAAAF Officer. She was a squadron officer who was in charge of all the WAAAF at Wagga which included us although we were all
independent but all the girls. She must have spoken to DWAAAF because we all messed in the one mess. Men and women officers had taken over the Riverina Club, the beautiful Riverina Club, running down near the Murrumbidgee which flows through Wagga. It’s a lovely club and the air force had taken over part of that for the officers’ mess.
We went there for all our meals. I suppose we did for all our meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner. And at weekends we used to get our own lunches. So she would have known what was going on, no doubt, she would have seen the girls perhaps arm in arm or whatever. And she must have had some suspicions, because she was a hard nut, and she must have got in touch with
DWAAAF and said, “I don’t know what’s going on here.” And DWAAAF would have come up because she’d want to nip that sort of stuff in the bud [stop it] straight away. I was the innocent one. Years later when I looked back I thought I must have given the plot away really and truly with my innocence. No wonder I had a baby first as soon as we got married.
I wasn’t the only one. There were hundreds and thousands. It was only natural with all the couples that married straight after the war and all those fellows who came back when it was all over the first thing they did was they all had children. There were a lot of them anyway.
How intimidating was it to meet DWAAAF in that way for you?
She was nice to me. “Cook, what do you know about these two girls? It took me a bit by surprise I think.
I was just quite honest and said, “They are great friends and they are always together arm in arm or hand in hand or whatever. They’re great friends, Madam.”
How long did she stick around?
They weren’t there long I think it was only a week until they were parted.
How long did DWAAAF stay around?
She probably did a few other inspections and checked out a few other things while she was up there but she was only there. But she was only up there for a couple of days to sort it out.
And they sorted it out and the girls got posted.
Is that the only occasion that DWAAAF visited Wagga while you were there?
Yes I think so. I don’t recall her coming at any other time. I did go before her once before for something. I can’t remember what it was. I can’t remember but I think she interviewed us all before we
left, after we came off our officers’ course. I have a feeling she talked to us then but I can’t recall. She was fairly strict but I can’t recall much of what she said. She was slightly intimidated.
I was going to ask you what sort of person she was?
She was slightly intimidating and she didn’t mince matters. She was a bit gruff and told you were a fool and even used stronger language if need by if there was a bit of a
problem or anything. She is dead of course now. She is gone.
What sort of respect did she command?
Everybody respected her. She was well respected by everybody but we thought she was a bit of a hard nut. I suppose she had to be because she had to get this service going in the beginning and she had all sorts of opposition from men all the time. She fought them all the way.
She was a wonderful leader really. That book tells you a lot about her. If you girls are interested in reading it you are quite welcome to borrow it. I’ll put my name in it and get it back. It made me realise when I read it just how much she had to put up with it. There’s another one there that she’s written herself and another one. It was very hard all the things that she wanted for all of them because she had to really fight every step of the way. You know what
men are like. They are bad enough now but they were worse in those days. Men accept it more today that women are equal or you hope they do anyway.
You’ve mentioned that she was a bit of a hard nut and intimidating but why was it that she held your respect?
I suppose because I just thought she’d got the service going and
she was a senior officer and I respected the senior officers. I thought she was extremely capable. She was a very capable woman, very capable. She just had to be that firm self all the time. She could laugh with you. She’d laugh and she’d let her guard down sometimes and come and visit. When we had our own
officers’ mess in Melbourne, in Toorak, for just WAAAF Officers and she visited there a couple of times. She came in and had dinner with us and a drink and that and we sat around in the board room afterwards talking with her. She would sit back and relax and she was nice.
Going back to the work that you were doing you
were assistant section officer?
Yes. When I first came off the course I was assistant section officer and then after six months I became a section officer. Later on when I got used to my job and got worked into it my immediate boss was a squadron leader, Tom Mackay, and he wanted me promoted. I think the establishment had increased a bit and I was
promoted to an acting flight officer. Then later on he got transferred to Melbourne and he wanted to take me with him down there. I suppose he must have thought I was efficient. I assume I was efficient in what I did. I enjoyed what I was doing.
What were your duties as an assistant section officer?
That is just a rank you get. That had nothing to do with the work I was doing. That is just your first
promotion. Men are pilot officers and girls are assistant section officers. There I was dealing with personnel again. The Training Group controlled all the unit groups and stations for training for pilots and gunners and observers and all the rest of them within a certain area and right up into Queensland and partly into Victoria.
It was a big area. They controlled all of that and requests would come into our headquarters from those stations for various things they wanted. If they wanted people posted or people brought in to take up something else that would all go through us. And personnel, anything to do with personnel, would come through us again. Things would have to be sent off down to
headquarters, a list of things. As you saw on one of these pictures there are a lot of charts and things behind me. I can’t remember what they all were now. I was doing general clerical work again, office work and everything to do with the office and what not, postings and promotions and personnel movement and so forth. Again I suppose it was keeping tag of everybody within the area.
Would it be fair to say that this work is perhaps the equivalent of what we might know as an HR Department now, a Human Resources Department?
Yes I suppose it would be a little bit, yes. They would talk with all the other departments within our group, the Training Group, at the headquarters. The men who controlled the training and what was
going on with the pilots and there was an equipment officer and there was the pay people and all those single departments and they would be controlling what was going on around in all the stations and units. Then from there it was into us and then down to headquarters in Melbourne. That’s how it sort of all went. It is very hard for me to remember all the fine details now.
You used to have to get lists together of all the officers who were ready for promotions and things to go down to the headquarters. I was forever getting the list ready for the air force list. The air force list tells you all about people and where they are. Not so much about where they were but their ranks and when they were promoted and that sort of thing and whether they were ready for promotion.
It’s very hard now for me to remember all these things but it’s on that line and it’s to do with that.
Interviewee: Pamela Penglase Archive ID 1737 Tape 06
Before we broke for lunch you were talking about some fraternising with the girls. Was there any fraternising with the men?
You mean girls and boys? It certainly wasn’t encouraged but it was pretty obvious that it must have happened. You wouldn’t get a collection of young people together like that without getting some fraternisation. You could talk to them and all that sort of thing but I think close relationships were sort of
frowned on and it wasn’t encouraged certainly.
It was during your time at Wagga that you were actually engaged.
Yes, that was to an officer. Maybe officers were different. I don’t know. He was a pilot. We had a flight out at Forest Hill. There’s a big air force base out there today and there always was then, a flying base. He was a pilot. He wasn’t a pilot there.
He had a special flight that was located there that used to fly the staff officers within the group around to the various stations on inspections, you know, for equipment or engineering or whatever it was. They had two or three planes. He was a pilot and was posted there. He had come back from overseas. He had been a Wellington pilot overseas and in Africa. I had met him and we were only
young and I think I had broken up at that stage with the boyfriend I did have. As I said I’d grown apart and I don’t think he’d advanced. We became friendly, but not too friendly, and eventually we became engaged. He got posted up to Townsville and then the stories used to trickle back from staff officers who’d been up there. He was having a hell of a good time up
there. So that waned and eventually I returned his engagement to him. He said, “You shouldn’t have done that. You should have kept it for all the pain and suffering.” I said, “No, I couldn’t hold on to anything like that” and I just sent it back. I’d even gone to have a fitting for a wedding frock. It wasn’t the actually bride’s frock but a going away frock or something like that. I can’t remember. I bought it anyway and wore it for
social occasions so that’s all right. That was the end of John Smith. And his name was John Smith. John Wellington Smith he was known as. He was a glamour boy, a pilot. I was hoodwinked. I met his parents and they were very nice but that was that.
I’m interested to hear that you were hoodwinked. How were you hoodwinked?
I didn’t realise I suppose. It was a case of “out of sight out of mind”
to a degree. Fellows that went up there said, “Pam, you’re far too good for him.” Several fellows said, “Don’t have anything to do with John Smith. He’s having a hell of time up there, a good time.” So I think things did wane and we just broke it off. I broke it off eventually.
So did John get a ‘Dear John’ letter [letter advising that relationship is over]?
Yes, probably, enclosing the ring. I should have kept it; I rather
How did the WAAAF look upon your engagement to a flight officer?
The girls? I don’t know I suppose they just thought it was wonderful. I don’t know really.
What about your superiors?
There were no worries like that. No there wasn’t anything like that. Girls and boys were getting engaged and that so to a degree there must have been fraternisation.
I’ve never really thought much about it.
What was the attraction to the pilots?
For me or for anyone? They were the glamour boys and they fancied themselves too, you know. You know what blokes are? “I’m the greatest and I’m a flier” and all that.
What was the attraction for you?
He seemed to be very pleasant and friendly and nice and that was all. He spoke well. He was a good speaker and he spoke
US [United States] servicemen were popular for their nylon stockings?
Yes. I never had a bar or anything to do with Americans.
What were the pilots famous for?
I don’t think anything in particular. They were fly boys and that was all. There was always a certain amount of glamour attached to the
Why were they called Blue Orchids?
Because of the blue style uniforms that they had. We had the lighter blue. They were called Blue Orchids. It’s just a nickname that somebody must have thought out and it stuck with them for a while. It gradually died out. It was only in the early stages I think. One never regarded them as Blue Orchids later on.
I think that was why. They officers just had uniforms that were blue, more blue, they were a grey blue in the early stages and then they went darker.
You said in the beginning that married women weren’t allowed in the WAAAF but eventually they were?
I think so, yes, I think later on they were. When the fellows were coming back from overseas, when all the army boys came back, and the girls who were
engaged to an army fellows it was natural that they would have married most of them when they came back. They couldn’t afford to dispense with them. If they became pregnant they definitely went out. That was it. You went out. They wouldn’t have been able to dismiss all the girls that were married.
Were there any incidents of girls getting pregnant out of
I think there was the occasional one but it never came across to me. That would have been more apparent and dealt with by the officers that were on stations where their job was in charge of the WAAAF. They’d see that everything went on all right and if there were any problems they were brought to them and they would deal with them. Anything like that would come to their notice and they would have to deal with it. In my
case I never had anything like that. We had girls in our section, you know, WAAAFs who were sergeants and corporals and what have you but I don’t think they had any problems. Most of the girls were single. In fact they were all single. We didn’t have anybody who was married.
In Wagga what did you do for socialising?
Socialising and entertainment?
They had a couple of picture theatres there and we used to go to the pictures. For the people who played tennis there were tennis courts and things for them to play on. One of the officers that I had, he and his wife came up from Melbourne, and they used to hire a tennis court and play tennis. I wasn’t much of a tennis player and I didn’t play until I went back to Melbourne
and the girls taught me to play. I was always a bit short of breath. I would get asthma eventually and I just couldn’t run around because I’d lose my breath too much. I never took up sport and I’ve never been a sporty person and I think it’s for that reason that I always had a tendency to be bronchial. When I into the air force it was just the same. I had one bad
attack and the only attack when I was back in Melbourne. I had been with my friend Flora to a social evening at someone’s house where one of the girls who had a soprano voice was training to sing and she sang. Of course the last trains were usually at eleven o clock or half past eleven and we had to run for the train to catch the train. We were quite a way from Yandoit where we were living at Toorak.
I must have got overstretched and overreached with my breathing and everything and I was puffing like a train. I thought I was going to die. I got on the train and undid my coat and hat and I had to hang out of the window. I think everybody on the train thought I was under the weather. Then we had quite a walk to do, it was at least half a mile, when we got out of the train back to the WAAAF Officers’ mess at
Yandoit. Then the next day I went on sick parade. The doctor was a female doctor and she wrote “Asthma Attack” on my records. But all she said to me was, “I think you’ve got a nasty cold.” I used to get a lot of colds in Melbourne. Melbourne weather was very bitter in the winter. It was hot in the summer but very, very cold in the winter and I was always having colds.
So they wrote asthma on it. And as a result of me having that written on my documents after I got married I developed it again really then. And went to the doctor and he said, “You’ve got asthma.” They’d kept it up on my documents from Melbourne and there it was, “Asthma.” As a result of that I went before a board and I got a small pension. I got a war service pension which has gradually
increased. I regard it as my private income. It has gone up quite considerably I must admit. At first I only had a minimal amount but now I’ve got not a full pension by any means but 75% or something like that.
You just mentioned an officers’ mess in Melbourne but where was your officers’ mess in Wagga?
That was, as I said, at the Riverina
Club. It was for males and females, both of us, but just Officers. It was in the Riverina down by the Murrumbidgee River.
What did the club look like?
I don’t recall very much. It was just a very solid building. It was mostly for the squattocracy [early Australian farmers who squatted on the land and became wealthy] I suppose around Wagga because Wagga is a very wealthy area with the sheep and stock and everything around there.
That was their, for the pastoralists, that was their club and it was fairly exclusive. They just used part of it and I think the rest of it was rented or leased to the air force.
From talking to men in the other services we’ve gathered a picture that alcohol was quite prominent during the war. How was alcohol treated in the WAAAF?
We never had any contact with it separately. The
officers’ mess would have or did have liquor. I never drank perhaps anything more than a sherry. That was very brave. Not many of the girls drank. The older WAAAF Officers might have their tot [drink] but we younger ones didn’t very much. Then when I went back to Melbourne and was living in the WAAAF Officers’ mess at Toorak we had our own
bar there. I used to help my offsider Flora who had come from a strict family of Methodists and never drank. I don’t think she told her Father and Mother but she became the bar officer and I helped her. I thought that was a great laugh. No, we didn’t drink but it was available if you wanted it.
How did you spend your leave in Wagga?
If you had leave you came home. I don’t know how often. You probably accumulated a bit but I don’t remember now how often. You could apply for some leave. I don’t know whether we were ever designated so many days a year or anything like that. I can’t really recall. I suppose we must have been. At Christmas time you got a bit of
leave to come home for Christmas and I did on occasion.
When you did go home how was your Mother coping with the war?
Very well. She was perfectly all right. She settled down to it. My Dad as I say was in uniform and going down every day to Keswick Barracks here. It was only five days a week which was a normal working week for
What contact was your mother having with her relatives in Germany?
None whatsoever, none whatsoever. I don’t think she wrote or was able to. After the war was over she used to send parcels, small parcels, to them. But that wasn’t until after her parents were dead. Yes, her parents would have been dead but her sister was still alive and her husband. I think she used to
send them parcels of things they couldn’t get because their rations were very poor. She used to send coffee and coffee essence and all that stuff that you could buy and send it off in little parcels. That was all. I don’t recall that she was able to keep in contact by letter. I honestly couldn’t say because I’m not sure. Mother kept in touch with her
sister and her parents when they were alive but then whether she continued during the war or just resumed after the war - when the war was over because it was twelve months earlier wasn’t it really in England. The European war was over before the Japanese war was over. I don’t remember exactly when VE day was, Victory in Europe. I don’t remember exactly when that was. Was it a year before we had it here
or something like that.
During the war a lot of German migrants were rounded up and put into camps.
Yes. My Mother had no problems there. She had no problems whatsoever. She had lived in London since she was a young teenager and then she married a young Englishman I suppose.
They probably investigated her. I’ve no doubt they did. I would have had to say who my mother and father were when I joined up although Dad probably when they put him into uniform they would have questioned him as well. There was no trouble and nothing ever came out with anything to worry her.
Why do you think your mother was spared unlike other German
I don’t know whether it was because she’d been away since she was a youth and she’d been in England and then out here. And she’d been through one war don’t forget. She’d been through the First World War for four years. I think she had no trouble in England in that regard in being questioned or anything legally. No, she never had anything out here, nothing at all. A lot of the
German people here I think were mixed up and they had a German club. I couldn’t understand really why they were questioned. They may have shown Nazi sympathy you see and spread propaganda about it
or something. But as I said most people thought my mother was English. She never spread it about.
How did your mother feel about the wave of Nazism that was growing across Germany?
She thought it was terrible. Anything like that would have been against her. When you’re young you don’t think much about how it affects your parents. It’s only when you are older like I am now that you wonder what they had to
put up with or she did. She never, ever complained about anything. I don’t think she was ever questioned. Then with my Dad being put into uniform and all of that she was just accepted.
Just going back to Wagga and your girls that you were looking after, did you ever have to discipline them?
No, not really, no. Any misbehaviour would have been dealt with by the WAAAF Officer in charge of all the girls over there and she lived over in the barracks. She was in the hotel which was the barracks for the WAAAF. So if there was any misbehaviour there she would have dealt with that. They were just
girls working in an office situation and I never had any bother. They were just the staff and when we’d finish for the day we’d knock off and it was, “See you in the morning” type of thing. They’d just go back to their barracks and resume that sort of a life. The only time as I said if I was the WAAAF duty on officer for the night you’d just go out and see that the lights were out and everybody was in their bed and all that sort of thing.
That was all. We didn’t have to stay there. Once you’d checked them al out it would be passed over to another WAAAF Officer who could have been on duty or was there to be called if needed. She wouldn’t have been expected to sit up all night or anything but she would be responsible if anything went wrong I guess.
Were there any incidents of going to count the beds and some of them being empty?
I never had anything. They were all pretty good.
How would you describe the girls that you were looking after?
They were all very nice like any cross section of girls that you come across. They were all right.
How would you describe yourself as a section officer?
Just the same as I was only an assistant section officer. I just carried out the duties that were
expected of me and I enjoyed it at Wagga. We used to go out on barbecues sometimes at weekends. There was a property – some of the senior officers must have known somebody out on one of the sheep stations and we’d go out there every few months or so and there’d be a barbecue organised. I don’t know who organised it or how it was all done but we would go out there and have races and all sorts of
nonsense. We had a very nice commanding officer who was in charge of the 2 Training Group Headquarters. He was Group Captain Sherger. He went up to Darwin later and he was up there during some of the terrible raids. He was a great guy and I always like him and so did the girls and the boys and the men. I think it
was mainly officers because the officers came in from some of the stations around but it was good fun.
What was it about Sherger that you liked?
I don’t know. I think he was just a nice down to earth bloke. He was very strict when he had to be but approachable. And he didn’t expect of anyone what he wouldn’t do
himself which made him popular. He was just very pleasant and he came down to your level. He wasn’t perched up at the top of the tree all the time. On social occasions he was very nice. I’ve always found him pleasant and approachable. I didn’t have very much to do with him I just knew him as the head of our group.
He was very nice.
What was 2 Training Group responsible for?
It was responsible for all the stations in that sort of area going right through the outback parts of New South Wales and slightly to the border of Victoria and up into Queensland. And all
air force units in that area came under the head of 2 Training Group. As it says “Training” it was mostly training establishments for anything to do with flying and pilots and observers and gunners. Then I suppose there was training of other units and things too but it as mostly I think flying.
It was anything to do with flying. There was meteorology and signals and ciphers and all that sort of thing. That all came in under the blanket too and we were in charge of all of that. They all had to come under 2 Training Group. If anything went wrong it came into 2 Training Group and they decided the issue form there. If it had to go to Air Force Headquarters then it went down to Melbourne or they’d be contacting Melbourne.
What training was going on in Wagga then?
Nothing much in Wagga itself. On the outskirts there was Forest Hills and there was a squadron out there. There was a flying squadron at a place called Uranquinty which was a service flying training school. They pilots had the elementary and then the service flying and then an advanced, advanced flying.
They were the main flying ones within the group in the area. There were other squadrons that came in as I said at Forest Hills. My daughter has got a place up in Sterling called Forest Lodge. I was forever calling it Forest Hills and Forest Hills was out from Wagga and that was
where we had the flying squadron. I can’t remember what it was. It was a senior one. It was just on the outskirts. The civilian air base was located our aircraft that used to fly the staff officers around. It was just small aircraft. That’s where I went for a trip too with this boy that I was
engaged too. He was one of the pilots that was flying all the officers around and he said, “Would you like to come up for a flight?” I said, “I’d love to.” We weren’t supposed to of course. He said, “I’m on duty this afternoon and you can come out and I’ll take you up.” It was what they called a Ryan aircraft. It was single winged. He was in the front and I was in the back or vice versa I can’t be sure.
Then he did all the loops and god knows what he didn’t do. I think he was trying to tip me out. When I got off that plane – I’ve got a terrible stomach – and when I got off I was as sick as a dog. I had a sort of teddy bear suit on and I was boiling hot and with all these acrobatics that he was doing – he was just showing off you see. I really was sick. When I got back to
our headquarters in the Sheriff’s Cottage where we were living I lay on the bed for quite a while I can tell you before I came to. I didn’t expect it again but at least I had one go.
So it was only one joy flight in the entire time?
Yes. That was all I wanted. I came home on leave quite often and I flew home because the men were going perhaps part of the way or taking back - you know how
people arrange these things. We had an army major and he was located with us. Why I don’t know but he had to come through Adelaide several times to the Army Headquarters here. And I hitched a ride as well but that was in a Douglas, a Dakota Aircraft, a bigger one. It carried passengers. I don’t know where that was
located whether that was out at our unit or whether it was sort of passing through and we all hitched a ride on it. I used to get very sick on the planes. I think it was the excitement of coming home. I always felt sick coming home and often was but then when I went back I was as good as gold. It was just the sheer excitement of flying and coming home and I was getting all worked up about coming home. I was never, ever
sick going back. It’s funny isn’t it?
How did you feel about going home?
You always looked forward to going home. It would have been months since you’d seen your parents for the last time and it was always nice to come home and see your friends if there were any left about the place. You just relaxed with your family and that’s all. It was nice to get home with Mum and Dad and get spoiled a bit.
Just going back to the
training group that you were posted at. There were quite a few accidents whilst in training with aircraft did you come across many?
No, I wouldn’t have had anything much to do with it, no. You’d hear of it and certain officers would go out and have to investigate and that sort of thing because they had quite a
few splattered around. I didn’t have anything to do with it other than I might have altered the records that somebody had been killed in an aircraft accident.
What was the procedure when there was an accident?
As far as I was concerned you would just get a signal that filtered down the line just to say that so and so was killed as a result of an
aircraft accident. It would be someone else’s job to advise the family and that sort of thing. It would be the CO of the squadron where he was or the station. They would do all of that. We would just have to keep the records straight and that’s all.
How would you feel when you’d get this news?
You’d feel very sad that someone had been killed in an accident. But still that’s what it is all about. Friends get killed in
road accidents and things. Look how they’re killing themselves off today.
Did you see any accidents with WAAAF girls?
No. There was one I heard of later. Those sort of things didn’t spread very much but I did hear later that I think one of the girls went up to test
out photographic equipment or a camera that was installed in a plane. I think that’s what it was. And the plane crashed and she was killed. There weren’t very many but there were a few girls that were killed in the line of duty like that testing out stuff. The women certainly weren’t encouraged to fly or go and have a joy ride or anything like that. It was only in the line of duty and if it was your job.
Politically that sounds like it would have been a bit of a hot potato?
Yes I suppose it would have been but it was in their line of duty and that’s what they were there for and accidents happen.
Was there any rookie training at 2 Training Group HQ?
No. They had all
passed all that. They had to have to have been posted there. No, there was nothing.
You mentioned earlier that there was a forced landing while you were at Wagga?
Yes. On one occasion I had to go to Tocumwal and I had to go I think via Mildura. We flew to Mildura and then I think I was picked up by car and taken to Tocumwal. I think that’s what happened. Anyway, I had to go
down and inquire into something that wasn’t quite right a record or something and we weren’t getting anywhere with them by phone. So they said, “You go down. So and so has got to go down that way. You go down too and then go across to Tocumwal and sort it out.” So off we went. This was in a small plane. I think it was one that
belonged to our flight and one of the staff officers as the pilot, Bill Robertson I think his name was. He had been a flying instructor for many years. He was an older man. He was a farmer or grazier and had flown before the war. He was a flying instructor. I think his nerves were getting a bit tattered and he’d been in a
couple of accidents and forced landings all over the place. Bill had force landed in nearly every paddock in Australia or within Training Group anyway. So Bill was the pilot and there was this army major and myself. I’m not sure whether he was on his way to Adelaide or he was going down to Mildura or wherever it was. So off we set and
I think I was going to stay overnight because I would have had to get a plane back the next day. I think I was going to stay overnight so I had some things with me. Off we went. It was a cloudy day with a north wind blowing. It was very, very windy and dusty in those days. You used to get winds out there in the back blocks and it as very dry. It was the middle of summer. The next thing we were getting
near to Mildura and we were over the River Murray and a place called Robinvale, it’s just on the Murray and not far from Mildura I suppose. Bill said all of a sudden – I was sitting alongside him – and he said, “The petrol is getting low and we’ve got this awful north wind and I don’t think we’re going to make it to Mildura. We’re going to have to make a landing. I’ll look down and see where I can put the plane
down.” He said, “Will you be all right?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Are you sure?” I said, “Well you’re the pilot.” And I crossed my fingers and I hoped it was going to be all right and the plane as getting buffeted around like this by this north wind. We were sort of flying along the River Murray and just above tree-top height. We passed over a lot. The next thing we came down a bit lower and saw this empty paddock and a farm house. So we came down in
that and it was a ploughed field and it was as rough as could be. How the plane didn’t tilt over I don’t know. Once we got out and looked at where we were we went, “Oh my God.” The plane came to a stop and he was out of petrol. I think it was because the wind was so strong and they hadn’t allowed enough. Maybe that’s what it was. Because really they are
supposed to have enough petrol to get where they want to go. He said, “I’ll stay with the plane and you two can start walking.” The river wasn’t far away and by the way the farm house was deserted. We thought we’d come down and get to the farm house and you could get on the phone and let them know what had happened. We set off the major and I and we’d flown over a lock, one of the locks, and we thought there’d be a
lock master there. That’s what happened. We walked on until we got to the river, and it was quite a long way, and then the lock master gave us the phone and they were able to ring through to Mildura where there was a flying school and let them know what had happened because they were expecting us and wondered where we were. They had checked back to Wagga to headquarters and, “The plane hasn’t arrived. Where are they?” Then the
news filtered through to my office, “She hasn’t got there yet and we don’t know what has happened.” They all thought, “Madam has come down somewhere.” So it was all great excitement. And finally they got through to Mildura on the phone and they sent out a truck with things to tie the plane down and some petrol to fill it up. Then we drove in to Robinvale and had to stay there overnight.
There was no way of taking the plane off at that stage anyway because it was getting to dusk. We went into Robinvale. There was a little hotel and had to stay the night in Robinvale. It was quite an experience. The two fellows were perfectly all right and I had no problems. It was quite an experience. And the next morning the truck came and picked us up again and took us back to where we had left the plane. When we got out and looked on the ground and it was all ploughed up and all
furrowed and I thought, “Fancy taking off from that.” I was scared of taking off. Anyhow he got up all right. He was a good pilot. He got us up and he got us to Mildura. We were all right then. We had lunch I think there and then they took me down to Tocumwal. I did the business I had to do and then they brought me back. I can’t remember whether Bill came back and picked us up or whether they had a plane and flew me
back to Wagga.
If Bill was notorious for his forced landings –
He was experienced you see.
How did you feel when you found out that Bill was going to fly your plane?
I felt a bit nervous at the thought of it but I thought, “He’s had lots of experience in forced landings.” It was with students you see. He would have had funny students that would have forced him down. I think he lost his nerve a bit but he was pretty good on this day. I think you’d think your days were numbered if you had too many force downs
with pilots, boys learning, and you had emergencies like that.
How did you get on with the pilots?
I didn’t have a lot to do with them but flying with them they were all fine and they were nice blokes. There were two or three or them or four I suppose out at that flight. They were all quite nice including the boy that I was engaged to. He was all right.
Whilst you were at Wagga you were also promoted to the equivalent of flight officer?
Yes. I was promoted. First of all I had been an acting flight officer and then I got posted back to Air Force Headquarters. My immediate boss had been posted back to
Air Force Headquarters and he wanted to take me too to be on his staff in Air Force Headquarters.
That was in Melbourne?
Yes. Eventually, I can’t remember what the gap was whether it was a few weeks or a couple of months but I got posted down there to his section in Air Force Headquarters. At this time they had moved from
Victoria Barracks on St. Kilda Road – not the whole headquarters but our section of headquarters down to Albert Park. That’s when we were in Albert Park Barracks.
Interviewee: Pamela Penglase Archive ID 1737 Tape 07
So Pam you’ve just told us about a hairy landing that you were involved in but you got back safely. I was just wondering what sort of reaction you got from the crew back in the office?
They were delighted to see me I can assure you. They didn’t expect one of those things to happen. I think I was expected to be away overnight because I know I
had other clothes and things with me and toiletries and so forth at the hotel so they must have expected that I would be away overnight rather than just the day. I was away overnight and it was just that extra day. That was all. I can’t even remember what the details that sent me down there now. I was just checking up on something.
I’m just wondering what kind of badge of honour it was to arrive
back with a forced landing under your sleeve?
They were quite impressed I think. They were just all pleased to see me back all in one piece. It was a good tale. It was a good story to write back home to Mum and Dad.
And was there a moment during that forced landing when your life was flashing before your eyes?
Well I had my fingers crossed.
When he said, “Pam I think I’m going to have to put it down.” I said, “Well you’re the pilot and I’ll keep my fingers crossed.” I thought, “It’s no good asking me to take over. I wouldn’t have a clue. So I just crossed my fingers and hung on and that was all. You were rocketing down. It was more worrying when you had to take off over this ploughed paddock because when you are up above you’re not seeing what it is so much. But once you got out of the plane and onto the ground and you saw these great
ruts all along. You thought, “Crikey we came down over it and we’ve got to get off it again.” We took off OK. He was a good pilot. He was very experienced pilot. I suppose if I was going to have a forced landing it was much better to be with him than someone else.
You spent about 16 months or so in Wagga and one thing we haven’t talked about
was what was the township of Wagga like?
It was very nice. It is a region, quite a large region. It had a couple of picture theatres and several hotels so it was a big place. There was a train line. The station was up the top of town at one end. I went through there recently and it’s quite different now. It had its own
courthouse of course which we occupied. It was a big centre. It was a rich centre because it was all agricultural and farming and sheep I think all around there. There were horses too I think. It was quite a pretty town. It had parks and gardens. Of course the river flowed through it, the Murrumbidgee, and we used to go down there. There was quite a beach, a big sandy area and in the hot weather,
Wagga was very hot in summer and cold in the winter, and very foggy, we used to go down there swimming in the hot weather. We all had our bathers and we went down and lie on the beach and had a swim.
How often would you see people in uniform in town?
All the time practically, all the time. There were two big air force bases, Uranquinty and there was a big army
one. What was that called? Forest Hills was the other big air force base and Kapooka. Kapooka was a big army base. Girls used to get invited to go out to mess dinners and things like that to the army. They would come in and pick you up in a car and that was all right. We had plenty of entertainment. We had a big
concert party going and we put on a couple of concerts in the Town Hall I think it was. They were good fun.
Can you tell us about one of those concerts?
It was the usual song and dance routine. There were some girls that were good at ballet and used to do dancing or tap dancing or whatever. We had choruses and so forth. We dressed ourselves
up and decked ourselves out and made costumes and things to wear. I can’t think of all of them and what they were but it was good fun. And of course you had to rehearse. You were rehearsing for quite a while to put the show on. The troops took part in it. It wasn’t just officers. It was mostly the troops, the boys and they had items and the girls had items. I always remember, I shouldn’t
say I suppose, you can delete it if you want. One of the sergeants, some of them were slightly under the weather I suppose to give them some Dutch courage [courage from alcohol]. He must have been to the little boys’ room and forgotten to zip up his flies. He came on doing something and it showed that he hadn’t done up his fly. There was a crowd of boys down the front going, “Close the hangar door.”
I hadn’t heard that expression before. It has stayed with me ever since. “Close the hangar door.” He kept on going across the stage and they kept saying it then he went off behind the curtain. I thought it was hilarious. I’ve often told Ron that joke and he often laughs. It was so appropriate.
That’s really funny.
I’ve not heard that one before.
I don’t know whether they had zips in those days or buttons, I’m not sure, but they said, “Close the hangar door.” You can see the point. It’s appropriate isn’t it? These were the voices from the front.
You’ve brought a tear to my eye. That’s very funny.
I thought you’d enjoy that
one. It was very embarrassing for we girls. You couldn’t see anything other than his underpants I suppose. But looked better when he’d closed the hangar door. I bet he was mortified the next day and probably couldn’t look a lady in the face.
What sort of show was it that you were putting on? What did you
sing or perform?
I can’t really remember any of that. It was just the popular songs of the day – Good night Sweetheart. I don’t know. Really honestly I can’t even think what my item was. I was in a chorus with other girls. I can’t remember. I used to do a lot of that. Before I joined up I was in a church group. We formed it at our
church and we used to do concerts and things and we were called “The Would Be Goods.” Everyone laughs at the name “The Would Be Goods.” We used to do song and dance and little routines out of musical comedies and things like that. I had always done callisthenics which included folk dancing as well. I can remember exercises and rods and
dumb bells and all this caper and dances. I was actually dancing and so forth. I’d always done a bit of that so I was really light on my feet and knew what to do. But there were always a couple of girls that had followed that right through and that was their thing and they were able to lead us in what we had to do. It was good fun and it filled in time. We used to go to the pictures there as well at Wagga. There were two or three picture theatres so it was quite a large place. It had two
or three picture theatres and we used to go to that. We filled in our time all right.
What were a couple of popular songs from the war years that stay with you?
I’ll be Home for Christmas I suppose, Bing Crosby. I can’t really think. Good Night Sweetheart was one of them I suppose.
How did that one go?
It was, “Good Night Sweetheart” and something like, “I’ll be waiting for you.” I can’t remember. Now you’ve got me stumped. I really can’t tell you. When I hear them I say, “Oh, all the war numbers.” We all know them but I can’t think of them just off the top of my head.
There were a lot of songs. There were a lot of musical comedies and films as well.
Why was it important to have a sense of humour during that time?
War time you mean? I don’t know. It never goes amiss does it? It’s important to have a good sense of humour. That was a laugh, that one I told you. That was a good laugh. I suppose that poor
sergeant I don’t suppose he could look a girl in the face afterwards because the boys would all have been on to him and he would have felt terrible. You had a laugh and you always enjoyed a joke and things. It seems a long while ago now.
It is just interesting to hear you taking part in the concert party. I guess I’m wondering
how helpful that was to relieve a bit of stress?
Yes it was something interesting to do and something different. Also, as you say, it filled in time although we always seemed to have plenty to do. You’d have to do your letter writing home to different members of your family. You had quite a few letters to write and you had washing to do. All your own washing and ironing you did all that. All the beds and that type of
thing were all done in the laundry and where that was I don’t know or who did it. That always went away but you did all your own personal things and you did all your own shirts and skirts and all that yourself. So there was always washing and ironing to do. You’d do that at the weekends. There would be a copper which you’d boil up. There were no washing machines as such. You’d boil up a copper or have the hot water in a trough and wash everything by
hand so it would take a while to do it all.
What did the locals in Wagga think of the service people?
I don’t know. I think they just accepted them. I didn’t have much to do with any of the local people. There used to be a lovely china shop that I used to always visit on pay day, when we got our pay, and I’d shoot around there and buy up things.
I’ve always been fond of nice china and stuff. Another WAAAF Officer and I, she was keen on it too, and we’d try and beat each other to get there first. I’d try to beat here to get round there. I always remember one day there was the most beautiful Limoges [fine china] cup and saucer. She used to buy pieces to take home to her Mother and I used to do the same or for an aunt of mine that I told you about. I had my eye on this cup and saucer and she beat me to it. She
got out first and she was able to go round and buy it. They had lovely things. You weren’t getting anything from overseas in those days, English china and all that, and I think they must have had a fair stock that they bought up over the years before the war. So they were well stocked and gradually released it out. I’ve got lots of things around the place I say, “Oh yes, I got that in Wagga and I got that in Wagga.” That lovely shop, I always remember that. It was good fun.
We always had plenty to do and then you’d always be talking with the girls. You’d always be talking and discussing things.
Did you receive any food parcels or any parcels from home at all?
No that wasn’t necessary because they were all on rations and we had some ration cards too. I notice in my pay book it says that ration cards were issued. I think probably we
passed those over to Mum when we went home for sugar and that sort of thing. I can’t remember whether it was tea and sugar we got. We wouldn’t have got meat I don’t suppose. I can’t remember what we got. Clothing, there were some clothing coupons. You had to have coupons for buying clothes. We only had civilian clothes to wear that you wore off duty or if you went out or anything if you need them.
All the other was issued to you, you didn’t have to part with coupons. They were always pleased to see you when you came home. There was no need to send parcels and things to us because we were very well fed. The messing was good. Ron was lucky in the navy he got good food and we got good food too. I think it was the poor old soldiers that didn’t get too much. Ron often talks to a lieutenant colonel
we know, he goes to our church. He’s 92 now and he’s bright as a button. He had some very harrowing experiences during the war. Him and Ron, as soon as they get together, off they go. They go over it over and over again, this other fellow particularly, he won’t let go. They had practically no food on different occasions. It was just bully beef or hard rations. They were very much
starved, the army, up in New Guinea. We were lucky in the air force we always had good meals. In fact I put on weight when I was at Wagga because we had a hot meal in the middle of the day, three courses, and then at night they’d put on another hot meal. I don’t think we had three courses at night but it would always be a hot dish or something or perhaps soup and a hot dish. We were very well fed. At weekends we used to lay off and get ourselves a bit of
lunch by going into town it wasn’t far, over the road. And we’d get tomatoes and cold meat and cheese and stuff and dried biscuits and have that sort of food to take the pounds off. I was beginning to get chubby. I’ve never been big but I was 7stone 9 when I went in and 7stone 9 when I came out but I went up to 8 stone. So I had put on a bit while I was
there. I was well fed. When I got back to headquarters again and I was in the WAAAF officers’ mess at Toorak then they’d pack us lunch to take with us and we’d just have one big good meal at night. That was good food too.
Before we move on to going back to Melbourne I was just wondering how
often or what sort of opportunities you might have had to attend church while you were in Wagga?
I didn’t at all. No, I didn’t. I took church up more when I came back. I was an intermittent church goer before I went away. My Mother was Lutheran of course and she used to go to church – there weren’t a lot of Lutheran churches and they used to have a service about once a month.
Dad was Anglican, being English, Church of England but he didn’t go much either. He’d go with Mother on occasions. So although we were brought up in Sunday School, I was never confirmed. Ron was of course. After we married I thought, “It’s not much good him going off to church and me being left alone at home. I’d better get back into it.” So I went back to church and got confirmed myself.
And then I’ve just followed the Anglican Church ever since and been a good regular member all my married life. I still do belong to various organisations within the church. I don’t remember ever going o church in Wagga. I don’t think I did. I went to the dentist. The Wagga dentist had to take a
tooth out of something or drill or whatever. He would be doing service dentistry and looking after the troops. He wasn’t in the service, he’d be in his own practice and they’d be coming in to him to look after their teeth.
Would you be given paid sick days?
No I don’t think so. I was never, ever sick. Girls would
have a spasm in hospital. Then they’d just be in hospital for whatever the problem was and get it fixed up and then come back to the unit again. I suppose if there wasn’t – most units had a hospital, a small hospital, and I suppose if it wasn’t severe they’d be whipped off to the nearest major hospital. Once everything was sorted out then they’d probably come back once it was fixed up.
I never ever had a problem. I was never in hospital other than I was fortunate as I told the other lass that when I had that asthma attack in Melbourne it was most fortunate that the doctor had put down asthma attack. She never said it to me. I was just fortunate in that regard especially as the rate has just gone up this week. I’ve had an increase.
It is my private income, interest bearing.
Let’s move on now and talk about how your posting at 2 Training Group came to an end. Why was it that it came to an end?
As I said the squadron leader that was in charge of our section, that I worked for
him, I didn’t actually have a picture of him there, he got a posting down to Melbourne, to personnel. And he wanted to take me too. He wanted me to come down and join his section down there. They must have been short of a flight officer because I was an acting flight officer by then. They must have been short on one down there. I don’t know why. That was the only reason I could
imagine why and he put in to have me posted to him down there, down there to his section. And as there was a vacancy I was posted down there. I remember a funny story I must tell you. One of the other WAAAF Officers, she was a cipher officer. She was a very clever girl, she had a Bachelor of Science. As far as being practical she was hopeless. She used to be amazed at me that I could tell how the electric jug was boiling. You wouldn’t believe that would you from a
girl with science? I said, “It makes a noise. Listen to it.” She said, “Ah.” “Oh Cook,” she said, “you are marvellous how you know these things.” She didn’t know how to light the copper or anything. You had to light the copper to boil it up to wash our clothes at the weekend. So anyway, different people with different ideas are not as capable as you think. So that’s how I came to be posted down
there, there must have been a vacancy. The story got back to me that when I was posted to Wagga they had a Director of Postings. And then his offsider was a P1 for Postings 1 and P2 and P3 and P4. Each officer was P1, P2, P3 and P4. And this girl said to the fellow who was P1 she said, “Oh, I hear you are going to have a
P2.” It was the way she said it, “P2.” That was a bit funny. Now what were we talking about? We are back to Melbourne. That’s how I came to go back. He wanted me to come back. He was a nice fellow. There was no attraction or anything like that. He just wanted my services
back there. I think he knew he could rely on me and what I was capable of doing and he had to do a similar sort of work only at top headquarters, the Air Force Headquarters itself. So he just put in to have me posted down there. And he got it and I moved down there to Melbourne, back into a similar sort of job, it was personnel again. I think I did a similar sort of work for the rest of the time. That was it.
It wasn’t a change of job as such it was just location really.
You were telling us that headquarters had moved locations?
Yes, they had moved in that time that I’d left there. At what stage they moved I don’t know. It might have already been being built when I was down there and when I was doing my Officers’ Course. How long it had been I don’t know. But they had built this
great big complex at Albert Park Lake, alongside or near the lake. There must have been a big area of land there. I have been back there. My granddaughter lives at Albert Park. But I couldn’t see anything any more. It’s all been built with houses everywhere now. It was just all temporary buildings, wood and iron. And there were just lads and loads and all sorts of departments had moved down there. The English WAAAF were down there too.
Some had come out because of the RAF people that had come out to Australia. So they would have been looking after them. They were there. It was very small but they ad a small headquarters dealing with the RAF and the English WAAF. I got there and there were loads and loads of buildings. It was a big thing. And eventually when the
war ended, the war ended for the English people, the English WAAF and the RAF all went back to England and we moved our WAAAF Officers’ Mess down there. It came out of Yandoit from Toorak and was moved down to one of the buildings there. It became the WAAAF Officers’ Mess. So we worked in the area and had our mess in the area
and so lived there. We used to get out at St. Kilda Road somewhere and then just walk down towards Albert Park. It was quite nice down there.
So when you first returned to Melbourne who were you immediately reporting to?
To this squadron leader. He was in
charge of the section I was to go to. He asked for me and that’s where I reported. It was personnel, back to personnel, the Department of Personnel. Or the Directorate, as it was called, of Personnel.
What did you think of the chain of command?
It was quite OK as far as I was concerned. You don’t see too much of the hierarchy. It was only the immediate people that you worked with. You get to know a lot of people in the
various branches all around you. There were a lot of legal fellows around that we knew around me. You just get to know the different ones that are working around the area. I ran what was called a Bonox Club because it was so cold and miserable down there in this headquarters in Melbourne. It was so cold that I used to take a little jar of Bonox [a beef extract that can be made into a drink] to the office. We had little
rooms where you could make a cup of tea and there was a jug or an urn. And I’d make a Bonox at the start of the morning to defrost because it was so cold. And the men would say, “Oh, what are you having?” the men in my section. They’d say, “Oh, would you make one for me?” Then the boss wanted one and his offsider wanted one so we used to have this little Bonox Club. As soon as I arrived there used to be a half a dozen
mugs of Bonox that would go around the office to start their day. I must have been a soft touch right from the beginning. That was a big of a laugh. We called that the Bonox Club.
How organised was the office?
It was pretty well organised. The office ran well. I suppose there was a strict routine how everything was done and you just did it. That was it. There was a hairdresser there in the
complex where we girls could go and get our hair done. They looked after you from that point of view. They always had hairdressers around for the girls. Work was similar to what I had been doing at Wagga only on a headquarters’ scale rather than a group scale. It was overall, overall in the RAAF
as a whole.
Just to give us an idea of some of the detail of your work, you mentioned you weren’t on a typewriter so you weren’t doing the typing?
No, none of the girls did. As I said before there was always a civilian typing pool. And if the officers wanted anything typed, it must have been letters - there wouldn’t have been
many because they’d be on the phone for most of the things they wanted to be organised. When there were things they needed to be done and had to be typed out it would go to the pool. It was only three or four girls. Up in Air Force Headquarters there was a big room full of people but in the smaller ones it would have been just a few girls. I don’t know what we did at Wagga. We must have had someone doing all the typing. It wasn’t the WAAAF as I recall it was
always a civilian pool. They were employed by the Commonwealth. It is the same as you’ve got today. There is the States’ Public Service and the Commonwealth Public Service. That was their job. They did all that sort of thing. We did more recording. I would write out a lot of stuff. I’d have to write down a lot of stuff and recording would be done. It’s very hard now to remember all the
detail of what was done and how it was done. It was mostly, because the boys used to always come in when they came back from overseas whether they’d been promoted or whether they’d been commissioned, because things might have crossed over. As they left to come home they might have received on their unit that they’d been promoted or whatever. There was always young fellows coming into the office
to enquire how their situation was and whether they were being promoted or what or when they were due for promotion. With the flying boys I think they were pilot officers, flying officers and then eighteen months later flight lieutenant. Then again I think it stopped depending on the establishment and what they called for. If they went into a big squadron they might become a squadron leader.
They were always wanting to know had they been promoted or had they been commissioned.
What sort of filing system did you have to keep all the records?
I don’t know. I think it was all done in these books, these big record books. They were like huge ledgers, huge, huge, ledgers. And they were about this thick. I think it was all kept there. Then later on they
brought in what they called the Holorath System which was the early system of data recording. You slipped with cards. You could press a button and out would come the card. I can’t remember exactly how it worked because I didn’t have anything to do with it. But they did record a lot of stuff. Instead of being it books they were all on cards which were easy access. They would just flip over or
pull out a long tray with all the names on it. And you’d just flip it over and find Joe Blow and it would give you the information. I suppose that was the beginning of your computer systems. Holorath it was called. It was one of the early systems.
The big ledger books that you were using were they in triplicate or was it just one record entry?
I think it was only just the one, like a bookkeeping
book that you had for bookkeeping – well, like they used to have. They don’t have those I suppose any more. They were just the big books with the sheets that used to just fold back and you write all your information. I suppose there was one for every person. They had their own sheet.
How bound were you to keep that information confidential. You mentioned the boys would come in?
You would say, “No, you are not due for it yet.
Maybe it will come in later.” I don’t remember whether I gave them the nod or not. By the time they’d been overseas and done a stint over there risking life and limb I think you’d feel a bit of a cad if you didn’t give them a bit of info of what was going on especially if they were due for it or you knew they were going to get it. I don’t remember that I gave away too much but I suppose I
did. You couldn’t blame me after what they’d all been through in those operations over Europe getting blown up and one thing or another.
Did your squadron leader know that you were passing things on?
I don’t know. He probably dropped a few hints himself don’t worry. I don’t think it was that strict really. You wouldn’t
blab it all around, no way. I don’t know. I think you might have said, “It’s not far off” or something like that but not really say yay or nay. That’s the only way we could do it really.
In that respect you were in quite a position of inside knowledge?
Inside information, yes. I didn’t consider it
important in those days though. You knew you had the power to know all this but it didn’t necessarily mean a great deal. That was your job. You girls are getting a lot of inside information now aren’t you? Who knows where it will end up. I’m too old now to worry about it.
It is interesting hearing you talk about it and
I’m just wondering not only were you the source of inside information but you must have been a little bit popular?
Yes, I guess so. I wouldn’t be the only one. I always remember a group of boys came in and they were on the same train. I was on leave for a day or two and they were coming through on the Melbourne Express. They were on the same express coming through and going through to Adelaide and I talked to
them. By the time I’d had leave and gone back for a few months or weeks later, after I’d gone back, their names came through and one or two of them had been killed up in New Guinea. I thought, “Well, I’m glad I told them” if I had told them. It was sad to see their names come up. That’s the war isn’t it?
There is lots of sadness in it. The lad I was so friendly with that went overseas to the Sunderlands, No. 10 Squadron, his brother also went into the air force and went overseas and he was shot down over the Hague out from Holland down into the sea and he was lost. That was his brother. He was a lovely
lad and he was only 20 or 21. You knew the different ones that you knew of. That was war you see? What next?
I was just wondering if there
was – what could you do when you spirits might have got a bit low during those moments that you were just mentioning?
I don’t know. You just sort of pulled yourself together and got on with it I guess. You’d just out to the pictures at night. When you went back to your officers’ mess the girls would go off down to the village at Toorak and go to see a film or something like that to cheer yourself up. That’s all you could do really.
It was a nice picture theatre down there and there were nice shops. We used to shop at the village in Toorak. We used to go for walks at the weekends on a Sunday afternoon when we’d done our chores and things and wander down around down along the Yarra. There are some lovely spots down in Melbourne around the Yarra out down from Toorak, Toorak sort of runs down to the river. There are lovely areas all along there. We used to go for walks
and it was very pleasant. We’d get a wolf whistle every now and then. Young kids give you a wolf whistle and we’d say, “We’re not past it yet.” We’d get a wolf whistle from these boys. Do men still do that?
Do they? I thought it had gone out. We used to get a wolf whistle now and again. And we always used to say, “We’re not past it.”
You’ve spoken a lot
today about the success that you had in the WAAAF and the good times apart from men being killed but also the good times that you’ve had. I’m just wondering, in your time in the WAAAF were there any difficulties that you had being in a position of rank?
No I don’t -
I know once I swore. The squadron leader and I were having a difference of opinion about something he reckoned I’d done and I knew I hadn’t. He was a little fellow and an older man. And I can remember saying, “Bloody well something or other.” I got hauled over the carpet for swearing at him. I think he deserved it but I must have lost my
cool. I wasn’t ever brought up to swear. He was accusing me of something I felt I hadn’t done. That was at Wagga. He was a fast runner. When we had these barbecues we used to have races as I said. He said to me, “I can beat you running.” I thought, “You little short, fat man, I’ll be able to beat you.” I was quick off the mark.
Group Captain Shergar was there at the time and he said, “Come on we’ll line you up.” So they put the track out where we were to run out on this barbecue area on this friend’s place. It must have been fairly flat and level. And off we went. Somebody sounded the “Go” and off we went. He shot past me like a rabbit. I found out afterwards he’d been some harrier or something like that. He’d been really a good
runner. I just thought, “He’s a little short fat man and he is old.” I thought he was really old. He might have been 40 – really, really old. And I thought I’d beat him and I didn’t. He pipped me at the post. Artaud his name was, Maurice. I’ve never said that name since, Maurice Artaud. Yes, and he beat me. I found out, as I said, he’d been a
harrier and was a very good runner. I got pipped at the post.
A bit of swallowing of pride?
I had to swallow my pride, yes.
Interviewee: Pamela Penglase Archive ID 1737 Tape 08
Now that you’ve been posted back to Melbourne where were you living?
Back at the WAAAF Officers’ Mess. It was called Yandoit. That was the name of it, in Clarendon Road again in Toorak and where I’d been originally in Orong in a big place that was sort of the road. That was a big place but this was a modern smaller one where that other one was sort of a mansion with huge ceilings and rooms. This was a modern home,
two storey with a nice tennis court. It was very nice, a lovely place.
Who were you sharing a room with?
With Flora, my friend Flora. She had been moved and she heard that I was coming back. I must have let her know because usually you knew with your postings a few days ahead. So she organised it that she and I would share a room which we
did then until the end of the war. We moved eventually from there down to Albert Park Lake, as I said, or Albert Park, because we moved into quarters where the English RAF and WAAF had been. After their war finished they went back to England. And it was a mess, they lived there as a mess, and we moved in there.
They closed off Yandoit and it would have been returned to the owners. They had to do them all up. They were leased, people were paid and they were leased by the services and then at the end of the war they were returned.
How did you and Flora get on as room mates?
Great. She was great. We
got on very well. I think I’m fairly easy to get on with and so is she. She was the youngest of a family of four or five girls, five I think, and we got on very well. We never had any hard word. I’d always be up first and I’d be on my way down to breakfast and I’d have to wake her and get her moving. She was always last up. She was a lovely person, very nice, well she is. As I say she’s in a nursing home now so it’s rather sad.
Sometimes when you are sharing a room with them, no matter how close you are to them, you can have rows?
Yes. No, never ever. We got on extremely well. And of course both coming from Adelaide we knew Adelaide and I’d met her parents. During the time that I’d known Flo we’d gone on leave at the same time. She was an officer of course too. And I’d met her parents and I knew the family that way. We just got on very well. I don’t know, me never having
sisters it was just lovely to have someone in my life as well who was like a sister.
Where was Flora posted?
She was at Air Force Headquarters too but she stayed there all the time. When she got her commission she got posted to the west and she was equipment officer there at one of the trainee headquarters or units and then she came back to
Air Force Headquarters again where she’d been when she was an ACW. Then she stayed there for the rest of the war. She didn’t get moved again.
Before you were talking about going to the cinema and having wolf whistles and just the attention, what was the reputation of WAAAF women?
Quite all right then. This is well into the
war. No, there were no worries at all. We never struck anything. Even when I was an ACW and living in the guest house there at South Yarra and travelling in the tram backwards and forwards to Air Force Headquarters I never came across anything unpleasant. No one ever said anything unpleasant. We heard there was a little bit of
that about but I think once the war rolled on and things got really serious people didn’t have a leg to stand on. You were more inclined to say, “Why haven’t you joined up? You are young and fit enough, why haven’t you joined up?” So people didn’t say things.
What was said early on?
I don’t really know. I don’t really know because I never struck it. I don’t know what sort of remarks they made.
AWAS were given a nickname “Always willing after sunset”?
I’ve never heard that. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that.
Do you know if WAAAF was ever given such a nickname?
There was an argument that if you create the services for women and take them out of their domestic duties that they would become a bit more free and easy.
How did you deal with those comments?
I probably just laughed them off. I wouldn’t have taken them too seriously. As I said when the war got so serious that sort of thing all stopped. They didn’t have a leg to stand on. You just imagine, I think there were 32,000 women just in the air force, in the WAAAF. If you had taken them all out and said, “Right, all go home,
back into civilian life” the whole air force would have collapsed if you think of all the work that the girls did. There were all the different musterings and supporting the men in all the things they did and doing a lot of jobs that the men did themselves and were doing. The girls were doing exactly the same. I don’t know what they would have done and I’m only talking about the air force. If they did it with the AWAS and the Lands [Land Army] when they started up - if you take all those women
out where would they have been? They wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on would they? You can see the point. With women doing all those jobs where would the men have come from? They were struggling as it was to get enough to go into the services and keep the industries and things running at the same time here. It never worried me if they said anything. I never, ever had anything said to me. I never struck it.
It might have been in certain areas where you might have perhaps moved and you might have heard something but we never did.
You said before that you would laugh those things off and a sense of humour would have been really important in those times. What kind of jokes did you have with the girls?
I said how we joked around in our bloomers blue and “Air women for the use of.” That was about the only
jokes I can think of. They had more jokes and fun out on stations and units because they made up concert parties and all those sort of things and put on shows. I think you got more of that out on units and squadrons. We were in a city environment and after dinner at night it was, “Let’s go to the show” and off we’d go. We used to go to the ballet
and concerts that were on and musical comedies when they toured the country and different states. We’d go and see those. That was our entertainment at night. Or we’d got to the pictures. There was always something to do. On the stations where the girls were all thrown together, a lot of them all together, and the more girls you had the more girls would have certain talents that they could
put together and have fun and do things. I didn’t strike that as an officer, I didn’t strike that. It was only when we helped out at Wagga when we had a concert party then. I did a song and dance with the rest of them in the chorus line. I was definitely chorus line.
A while ago we made a comment about the US servicemen and
you said you stayed away from them. What was it about the US servicemen that you didn’t like?
They had a reputation that they were after all the girls and you had to be careful with them. I was always a bit wary of them so I always kept well away. I didn’t run across very many. The few that I did I would keep well away from. I wouldn’t
encourage them or anything. I suppose it was a bit hard on them because some of them were perfectly nice young fellows like ours would be when they went overseas. But they had the reputation, you know, and of course the Australian servicemen weren’t too keen on them. I think they struck more of that up in Brisbane, up north where there hordes of American. There weren’t so many around Melbourne. I think there were quite a few in Sydney but there didn’t seem to be that many
around Melbourne. I know when I was still in Postings, before I got my commission, one of the girls in the group that I was with, originally there were four but in the there were twenty or thirty in the area. And this girl, I can think of her name now but I won’t say it, she was always a bit flighty. She went out with this American fellow and she used to come back with beautiful
boxes of chocolates which we’d all get in to and stockings and those sort of things. We don’t know what she paid for them or how she paid but she’d get home and she’d look tired when she came back the next morning. No, I wouldn’t have encouraged them at all. I didn’t have anything to do with them I should say.
What was it do you think the Australian servicemen didn’t like about the US servicemen?
They just thought they were
pinching all their girls. That was all really that they’d lose their girls or their wives. They’d be won over by the Americans. Well, you know with the American films and all that and they had money for stockings and all the sort of things that they get in their canteens and so forth. I think the Australians were worried that they’d be running off with their girlfriends and wives and that the girls would get carried away with it all.
Well some girls really did?
Yes, they did, and quite a few married them and went back to live in America. I don’t know how many lasted the distance. Some of them were a bit surprised when they had black children I think or so we heard. They had dark children. I don’t know about that.
What was the big attraction for these women? What were they attracted to with the US servicemen?
I don’t know. I think because they had more money in their pockets and could give them a good time. They showered them with things, which apparently they did, that we couldn’t get or were hard to get here. They had very good canteens and so forth. A lot of stuff was available to them that wasn’t here. They had lovely chocolates and
sweets and things. This girl used to come back with some nice boxes of chocolates and stuff. We didn’t appreciate her going out with an American but we weren’t knocking back a nice chocolate or sweet.
You had your own sweetheart at this stage didn’t you?
Yes I had this boyfriend that was in the air force. I met him when he was training in Adelaide.
Then when he finished his training he was commissioned and then he went to England to 10 Squadron, the Sunderland Flying Boats.
Was this John or was this someone else?
No, this was Winton. My girls when I shared rooms with Flora and Dris, they used to tease me about him. They had met him and they knew
him. They used to tease me about him and I said, “No, no, no. Winton comes first.” They always used to go, “Winton comes first.” Winton didn’t come first in the end. We just grew apart. He was away for a long time and I suppose he’d grown up a bit too. I thought he was a bit immature and I’d grown up a bit. I was
was pretty naïve about things myself but I just felt I’d grown up. That would be the word. I was pretty naïve in the early days but I think I’d grown up and matured a few years. He didn’t come back for several years. It was several years before he did come back. We sort of drifted apart and that was it. He came from a nice family and I got on very well with them. I used to visit them and all that.
So at what stage did Ron come into the picture?
I’d known him on and off sort of flitting through your life from school. He was at school and of course he had three brothers. There were four boys, four Penglase boys. So you knew of them at school. They were all nicely dressed. His mother kept them very well. She looked after them well. What were we
leading up to? We were going to dances then in the district here, in this area. We virtually lived in this area when we were young and when we married I lived at Glenelg first, East Glenelg. And then as our family grew and I wanted more rooms we went up to Seacombe Heights, just behind the high school, up in the hills where it overlooks the oval and the city. That was lovely.
Then room there, when they’d all flown the coop and gone, Ron and I were left with this house with four bedrooms. We didn’t really need all that room. And Ron had to catch the bus to come to town to the office. And it was a long journey for him and it used to take him about three quarters of an hour to an hour and we decided to move.
Can I just take you back, right back. You went to school together?
Yes, we were in the same school but not in the same class.
At what stage, because Ron was in the navy and you were in the air force, so at what stage did you actually meet up again?
I think – I’m finding it hard to slot in – I used to help out with the Royal Naval Friendly Union. That was a volunteer group of women that used to pack parcels and
things to send to the ships to the boys. I can’t remember. They were calling for helpers. And his mother and father, his father in particularly, used to solder up all the tins of jam they used to send. In a carton they got jam and chocolate and probably cigarettes and that and the other. And Mr Penglase always used to solder up the tins of jam. I knew his mother and father. I had met them. I can’t really
tell now – I must go back – as I said Ron and I used to go to dances here in the area in Crofts Road. St. Columbus used to have a big church hall, a lovely big church hall and dances were always held there. There used to be in our day lots of dances that you’d go to. There was the Rechabite Hall or the RSL [Returned and Services League] Hall or the Institute Hall. In this case it was the Church Hall. And you met people
there. I saw Ron there I think a few times. Then the girl I worked with in my first job, she was friends with another of Ron’s friends and they used to hold dances in their garage. They had a big double garage. That wasn’t unusual in those days. And Mrs Stock she used to play the piano. She was a brilliant pianist and she used to
be able to play modern music of our day. And there were records and things that the boys would put on. And there were dances there. They’d do things to the floor and we’d have wonderful dances. Dancing was very popular. Today the kids don’t do that they just hold each other and keep going around. We used to dance properly. We learned it. So that’s how I met Ron again there because she took me. Barbara Pride took me there. She said, “Well come to this dance. It’s around at
Mr and Mrs Stocks.” I said, “I think I know them.” Anyway, she took me around there and I had a great time and of course I met Ron again. Our paths just seemed to cross. Every now and again we crossed. And then later I came to live around here at Lower Mitcham and I used to walk to catch the train. I’d walk up Planes Road to catch the train to go to the city and he used to do likewise. He would
pant and race to catch the same train as me so he could travel up on he train with me or walk home with me when I got off the train and go to his place because you had to go past where I lived, well, the street where I ducked down. So we got to know each other then and then all of a sudden there was a gap and war had broken out. I don’t think I realised that he was in the naval reserve. He was fairly reticent. I said to him now, “You were a slow coach, you could have had
me ages ago, before you did.” But he says he was being careful. He wasn’t too interested in girls. To be perfectly honest I wasn’t too interested in boys either. Having brothers boys didn’t excite me greatly. Anyway, the next thing there was quite a gap and I realised he’d joined up. I found out he’d been called up and had gone to the navy. I must have met his Mum and Dad. And I used to go
around there because it was only around the corner from where we lived or only a short distance. I used to go around there and talk with them and ask about Ron and how he was getting on and so forth. I was called Pam then. In the earlier days I’d been called Nora at school. When I went into the office in the city amongst men they said, “What is your name?” I said, “Nora.” “Have you got another
name?” “Pam, Pamela.” “Oh, Pam, that’s what it is going to be.” I just became Pam and that’s how it started. And my family called me Pam. Not my brothers, they just used to called me Missie. I got Pam from Mum and Dad. Everybody sort of got into the habit of saying Pam.
At what stage when you were in the WAAAF did you meet up with Ron again?
When he came home I think and was commissioned.
I was friendly then with this boy from the air force that went to 10 Squadron. He was doing his training out at Parafield. And he was taking me out to the pictures. He said, “Oh, there’s a bloke I know who is home on leave. He can come to the pictures with us.” And Ron came too. And then I found out that it was Ron and that I knew him. Just always our paths seemed to just
cross again. He had a girlfriend and became engaged to a girl in Sydney. And she threw him over for an American fellow who had more to offer. I don’t think Ron was that keen either. He got talked into it or he says so. Anyway, that was the end of his romance there. Then I parted of course with Winton but I hadn’t met the air force fellow that I actually
became engaged to at that stage. I used to sometimes come home on leave and he’d be on leave. And he’d call round and find out how I was getting on. And I’d see his mother. And then we’d go out together. We’d go to pictures and things like that and go to dances. There were a few dances. Then he’d go off back to the war again and I wouldn’t hear anything of him for a while. One day I thought it was time I was sending him a
letter and cheering him up or something. I wrote to him and that started it off. We corresponded then. When he was coming home on leave he would let me know and then I‘d try and organise leave for myself which I often did. I’d be home at the same time. Sometimes it came and it was holidays like Easter and Christmas and then he’d be home too. It was just coincidence because he wouldn’t be able to organise it. His ship had to come back.
That’s how it happened. And then eventually we became engaged in October after the war was over. We were both still in the services then. I didn’t come out until February and I think he came out some time in January. Then a fortnight later we were married.
That’s an interesting point about you both being in the services and trying to retain a
relationship in the middle of the war. That common bond that you had how did that help you through?
I think we were just good friends and neither of us were anxious to marry at that point in time. We wanted to see it through to the end which we did. And then he popped the question and I said, “Yes” and that was it. That was in October and then we were married on the 23rd of February, 1946.
We’ve been married 58 years so we’ve done quite well.
Ron was getting quite close to some of the action that was going on?
Yes, I realised that. Of course I used to go round and see his Mum and Dad when I was at home and they were very attached to me because not having any girls. Her first baby that she had when she married was a girl and it was strangled with the chord around the neck. So it never survived. Then she went on to have four boys.
She had four boys and she had four of them in the services. It must have been hard on her. She loved having me around because she liked girls and not having had a girl she liked it. And Mr Penglase, he was very fond of me.
And at the time when Ron was going through his campaign did you know of what –
I had a fair idea. He would send letters and he would tell me that he had been. I wouldn’t know what was pending but when it came out in the paper then you
realised. They would mention the ships that had been in it and then you’d know. Yes, I was a bit anxious. You realised it was quite serious. He was lucky really. The whole ship was lucky.
You were quite fortunate because you were having a relationship with someone who was in the service who survived. Not all women in the WAAAF were quite as fortunate. Did many women that you came across lose boyfriends or husbands?
No, not a lot that I knew of.
There was one girl who lost her brother and that was very sad. Mary Rose her name was. She was a lovely girl, a pretty girl. Her brother, I think, was in the air force overseas and he got killed. It was very upsetting. We all felt terribly upset about that. We had times when I can remember in our WAAAF Officers’ Mess we’d put music on. It would be soulful music.
And there were just a couple of songs, orchestral pieces, one was the Warsaw Concerto. Do you girls know that one? The Warsaw Concerto, it’s a lovely piece, a beautiful piece of music. That came from Suicide Squadron a film. And we used to put that on and the girls would be in tears. We’d have a real night of it. It was very sad.
No, you had these times. I didn’t hear of a lot of girls that I knew but Mary Rose sticks in my mind as one who lost her brother. I don’t recall anybody losing husbands and things. Not too many of them would have been married to start with. It would have been boyfriends or so forth or brothers.
So in times when you’ve got so much
unhappiness going on around you and although you’re trying to find ways to be happy and to get through these times did it ever just get too much like the emotional burden of war?
No, I don’t recall that it did with me. It was a great relief when it was all over and we knew we could all go back home again and resume our civilian way of life.
No, it had been going on for so long. We thought we were going to be in there for a couple of years and it would all be over. It was about five and a half years for me or five years I suppose. I’d been in since October 1941 and I came out in February 1946. So it was five years I guess. That was a long time. And towards the end you were getting
ready – it had finished in Europe and it was just a case of knocking out the Japanese and they were a worry. I can remember at Wagga how we felt we were getting closer and closer to Darwin. It was a worry and so it was a great relief when it was all over. We went into town and celebrated in the streets of Melbourne and all that caper.
Can you remember receiving the news that the Japanese had surrendered?
I think we just
heard it generally. It might have been in the office or in our Officers’ Mess, the WAAAF Officers’ Mess. I can’t recall really. Mainly we heard - when they were all dancing around in the street I think was for VE, Victory in Europe in the war. You often see that boy, he was well known, dancing in the street in civilian clothes. It was just a relief that it was all over.
I can’t remember exactly how I heard it -whether it was just we were all listening to the radio and heard it on the radio. Then we all trooped into town and went to join the fun in town.
What was it like in the city?
Great. Everybody was hugging everybody and dancing around and everything. Then we had to walk all the way home again I think back to Toorak. It was Toorak so it must have been Victory in
Europe. I would have been down for VP day [Victory in the Pacific] which is Japan. We would have been down at Albert Park when the war actually ended for us and the whole thing was over. I think we were just jolly glad that it had all finished. Now we could al get back home again and pick up the threads and get on with it
as I think most people did.
There was such anticipation of joining the WAAAF at the beginning and now you’re expressing that you couldn’t wait to leave?
Yes. Well we knew that the WAAAF wasn’t going to be a permanent fixture. Of course they did stay on a few of the girls. A lot of younger ones would have joined over the period of five or six years. A lot of younger ones as they turned eighteen or
nineteen they would have come in by which time we were about twenty-five. We were getting to be the older brigade. A lot of younger girls were there but the older ones were all ready to go out. I’m not sure whether they made a break or whether they kept some of them on. They had to keep some girls there, and boys for that matter, to do the winding up and things. Then some girls - whether they were approached
then to keep the WAAAF going or whether they made the break and then started them again I’m not too sure. I have a feeling they ran on and they decided that they’d have a women’s service as well. They would have volunteered to go on if they wanted to.
And how busy was your department at the end of the war?
We gradually slowed down. We slowed down because they were
disappearing back to civilian life so the troops were getting less and less and less. So there weren’t too many people being promoted or posted that we had to keep record of because they were all disappearing back into civilian life. It just slowly ground to an end. Well, as far as we were concerned and then we were demobbed [demobilised] and out. What happened after that the people that were left behind would have got on with that.
So when did you
finish up in Albert Park?
In February. I think I came out – what did Ron say – I think the 15th of February I think. I was demobbed and I would have come back here. Whether I came back on leave first and was then demobbed I’m not sure.
You believe that you were demobbed in Albert Park in Melbourne?
From Albert Park.
That was my last posting there. Then I came back here to home and was given leave. Then I had to report down to be demobbed and that was opposite the Repat [Repatriation] Hospital. All that area was open. There was no school or anything there right up to the cemetery I suppose. That whole area was all air force huts and things and that’s where we were demobbed.
How did you
feel coming out of uniform?
I don’t know. I thought it was all right. I was probably a bit nostalgic that that was it, you know, the end of an era. Then of course I had a wedding to get on with and look forward to so I suppose that compensated for it to a degree. Once the show is over that’s it. You’ve got to come home and get on with it now. Somebody else is going to carry on the air force and you’re going to come home.
No more war.
Had you been demobbed by the time Ron proposed?
No. We were engaged in October.
That’s right, sorry.
He was home on leave or something like that, a short leave, and he popped the question and I said, “I may as well, yes.” By that time I was thinking, “I suppose I’d better get married.”
What was the first thing you did when you were demobbed?
I can’t say. I suppose I dug out all my civilian clothes to see what I needed. I was getting married so I had quite a few things on my mind. I had to organise going away outfits. In those days we had going away outfits. As far as the wedding was concerned I had organised what I was going to do of course in the interim for a couple of days.
A friend of mothers knew a girl that was going to get married and then her mother got very sick and everything and she had to put it off. So I bought the wedding frock from her. I’m not sure whether she did eventually marry and wear it and then I had it afterwards but I bought her wedding frock. You couldn’t get things. You couldn’t get beautiful materials and it was a pre-war thing. It was all beautiful lace. That affair with her
Mother had gone on for some time and whether she’d married and then just hung on to her dress I don’t know. Anyway, I bought the dress and I was very lucky because it was beautiful lace. You can see it in the wedding picture there. It was lovely lace and things, it was really lovely. Mother took a tuck in here and a tuck in there and it fitted me all right.
So when you came home – your brother had also been in the catering corps?
Where was he posted?
I don’t know.
He was all around the place at different places. The last time I knew where he was he was up at a Flying Boat Squadron up at Rathmines. Gordon was there for some time. I think he got demobbed there.
How did your mother feel when she had all of her children back home?
She had two of us. My eldest brother was married.
She loved having us home, yes, of course, it was nice. She only had me because my brother, my younger brother, he had also married and so he had his own home and everything by the time I came home. He had come out earlier I think and gone and got married.
How did your mother respond to VE Day?
She was very
thrilled about it all, everybody was, to see it finished and over. It’s like the American mothers today. When this wretched war is over in Iraq they’ll get their boys home again and I suppose Australians too will get their boys back. They will all be pleased to see the end of it. It’s getting worse if anything don’t you think?
You spent quite a few years in Melbourne and now you were back in Adelaide. What changes had you noticed?
I don’t know that I’d noticed many changes. It was hard to get housing. Nearly everybody was going back to live with their families or perhaps renting something but even to rent a place was very difficult. So Ron and I decided that we would
live with my parents until we could put in for a house and get a house. We had financial means that we could manage that all right. There was just nothing available to buy. You couldn’t buy a house and they weren’t building. Then afterwards once the war was over there was a great scuffle then to get housing built. Then you could only get – all that was restricted and
rationed. All the building materials were rationed. You couldn’t just say to a builder, “Build me a house.” You were restricted on size and how much you could build and the composition of the house etc. It wasn’t easy. A lot of young people – we were with my parents for about two years.
Had you thought about returning to work in this time?
No, it wasn’t
done. Girls weren’t working or married women weren’t working and my health wasn’t the best. Being asthmatic I had this bad asthma. And I was pretty sick after she was born, my daughter, before she was born and after. So I don’t think – I was just pleased to be home. It took it all out of me just looking after a child and running a house.
We moved and our house was built in 1948 I think. It was group housing with the State Bank.
Interviewee: Pamela Penglase Archive ID 1737 Tape 09
Just going back to your engagement to Ron – that was in October 1945 – how did Ron propose?
That’s hard. He didn’t get down on his knees I don’t think. I was around at his place and I just think he said, “What about marrying me?” and that’s about it. Or, “What say we
get married?” And I thought, “Why not.” I think that’s how it was. I think it was inevitable that I’d marry of course. Most girls of our generation expected to marry but it is so different today. Today you don’t have to be married. I just thought, “That will be nice.” And I got on well with his
Mum and Dad as well so that was important and he got on well with both of my parents.
What did you both do for an engagement ring?
What did we do? The previous time I’d been engaged I’d sent the ring back which I think now, in retrospect, was rather foolish. I should have hung onto it but I thought he’d think unkind of things of me for holding on to it. So I thought, “I’m not going to put myself in that position it can go
back.” I have never been a great jewellery person so back it went. Ron, I think, had one in his pocket from his previous engagement. He wasn’t wasting money. He’s not an accountant for nothing. I think he thought, “I’ve got the ring.” It was lovely. It was set in a square setting, a square diamond. It was a lovely ring which I lost I might add. I lost the diamond out of it when
we were having the sleep-out added to our house at Glenelg when we lived down there. So I had to get Ron to get another one. I said, “It wasn’t the original was it. You didn’t really choose it for me?” So we chose another one which I’m not wearing because it has got so thin that I’m frightened that I’m going to lose the diamond out of it. I looked at it the other day and I said, “I’d better get that into the jewellers to be
re-done or get a new one.” I’m not wearing it today. It’s got sapphire on each side and a nice diamond in the middle but you can’t see even the claws on the middle one and I’m frightened I might lose it so I thought I’d better get it fixed. So that was that. I did get another ring afterwards, a new one, a different one.
Where did you get married?
Around here in St. Columbus Church.
We’d sort of gone round in a circle. After living with my mother for a few years we then moved down to East Glenelg, they call it Glengowrie today, that’s another suburb that got changed. We were there for about thirteen years and then the family had all grown up and were getting bigger. And we gave a home to a girl who’d lost her mother and there was no father, the father was dead. And she lost her mother and there were three children at the church.
So we split the children up and I had the eldest because she was the same age as my daughter and doing her Intermediate about the same time, and someone else took a second sister and one took the boy. She was sharing a room with Christine and it wasn’t really big enough and I felt they needed to be apart rather than together. So we decided it was time to
make a move and we built again up at Seacombe Heights.
I’m just wondering if you can tell me about the day you got married?
It was a lovely day. It was a hot day. It was a really, really hot day. And in those days they used to have Henley-on-the-Torrens. It was a bit like Henley-on-Thames with the boat races, when the schools have their boat races. And there was big fun and games down there on
the Torrens. We got married around at St. Columbus here and then the reception we had at a lovely place on North Terrace at the Wentworth. You used to go downstairs to it. It was right on North Terrace and it was opposite the war memorial and the area there somewhere. It doesn’t exist any more but that was a lovely place for a reception. We had our
reception there which was very nice. Then we had our first couple of nights in the South Australian Hotel, the South. Of course that doesn’t exist any more. That was lovely. That was the place in those days. They pulled that down and put up the A & A Building or the Ansett building or one of the big airline buildings there. I don’t know what they call it today. That was a beautiful hotel.
Why did you choose the South Australian for your
The first two nights. I have no idea why but that was a nice place to go and we could afford to go there. It was convenient because the next day, that was a Saturday night and a Sunday night, and on the Monday we flew to Kangaroo Island. That’s where we went for our honeymoon, Kangaroo Island. We had a fortnight up there and that was very nice. I think that’s why
Ron decided, or we decided I suppose, to stay at the South and swank it up a bit because that was the place to go. And it wasn’t far to go. The man who took us drove us around the city a couple of times because we kept seeing the people who’d been at the wedding, you know, coming along North Terrace and we didn’t want them to see where we were going. These things happen. That’s where we had a couple of
nights. And then we took the place, which was quite exciting, to Kangaroo Island. In those days they had no flights for us to come back. They were all booked for when we wanted to come back after a fortnight. They said, “You’ll have to book over there.” Of course when we tried to book over there there were no flights coming back from Kangaroo Island to Adelaide. So we had to come back on the Karaka. That was this little ship that used to ply
between Adelaide and Port Adelaide. It was a terrible little thing. It used to carry sheep and goats and god knows what and us. I was sick as a dog coming back.
Did you enjoy that day?
The wedding? I suppose in retrospect it was a lovely day. It was a very hot day, very hot. Mum and Dad were all decked out in their finery of
course and Flora, as I said was our bridesmaid. Our friend, Margaret Higgins, was the second and the other two were Ron’s brother and our close friend, naval friend, Ken Stop. He lives in Sydney but his brother lives just around the corner there. And we are very great friends, he and his wife although his wife is dead now. We were great friends. I think it was through his influence that Ron went into the
navy pre-war. So he was best man or groomsman or whatever. It was very nice and we look a happy lot there. I laugh at the flowers. They were great big flowers like this. I’ve got a nice smallish posy. I didn’t want a big one but the girls have got these great big thumping things. How it all changes. What is it when you see the girls today with one single rose or carrying one
carnation or something. There are all different styles aren’t there. And the girl’s they scream when they see photos of themselves with their hair all down here and they can hardly see out of their faces. They say, “Why did I wear my hair like that?” It was just the fashion.
Did you have a wedding cake?
Yes we had a wedding cake. I’ve no idea where that came from or who made it but we had one.
We cut it with, not Ron’s sword, but we borrowed a sword and it was a real naval tradition we cut the cake with a sword so we did that. It was all done very nicely. We had wine and champagne. Mother had saved up a lot of – she was in the Red Cross around here at Mitcham. And I think the President of Red Cross, they lived in a big house up at Blair Road, and her husband was the
head of the Wine Board or something like that. Anyway he could pull plenty of strings and she got a dozen champagnes from him because that was hard to get too. We brought home a dozen. Flo and I had organised it through being bar officer in our mess. We got some champagne there so I brought home a dozen from Melbourne and Mother was able to get a
dozen from this fellow. I can’t remember much about it but it was enough wine to go around and enough champagne and all that. It was very nice.
Yours was a marrying of two services and you just mentioned that you cut the cake in naval tradition style. Was there anything else about your wedding that was in the tradition of the services?
We had a
Guard of Honour with the swords crossed coming out of church. Some had swords and some borrowed them and they made an archway with swords and we walked out through that. That was nice but that was the only traditional thing as well as cutting the cake. I don’t really think the weddings were quite as elaborate as they are today. They put a lot more into weddings, those that have them,
today. It was very nice. It was a lovely wedding. I can’t remember how many people were there. There were 50 or 60 or something like that. A lot of Ron’s service friends and several of mine that could get over came.
In what ways do you think that it helped both of you to be marrying another serving person?
I think we just understood. As I said before service people had a rapport with
each other and you understood what you were talking about. You knew the lingo and I knew what he’d been through. He had a bit of an idea what I’d been up to so you just had a lot in common really. That’s what it was all about. And having known each other for so long on and off and on and off and the background of the people – like me being
engaged and him being engaged. We knew all that about each other so we started off well and truly on the right foot. I really think in retrospect it would have been better if I had waited a while to have a baby and given myself a chance to get back into civilian life. It’s not that I felt estranged from it but I wasn’t well. That was the whole point. I was sick the whole time, nine months of it. I had morning
sickness every day. I couldn’t stand the smell of food and fortunately living with my Mother she was doing all the cooking. I’d say in the morning, “Mother, I’m really hungry I think I’ll be able to manage a meal tonight.” As soon as I got the smell of food cooking I’d be off. It was terrible. And you didn’t get anything to stop it in those days you just put up with it. It wasn’t very nice so that was that. I think I
was possibly a bit weakened by the time I’d had a baby. It was a strain. I was very thin. I didn’t get a chance to put on any weight. I never fed my baby. I didn’t have any milk to feed her with. I was just so thin and miserable.
You did mention earlier on in the day that you felt like your health had been worn down a little by the end of the war?
Only from the point of view that it
was a strain. You go through a strain. I think it would have been nice to have just relaxed back into civilian life and all the pleasures of getting a home together. I never had a glory box. I never was one that wanted a glory box. You’ve heard of those haven’t you from the old days? “That means you’re going to tie me down to marriage.” I didn’t want a glory box. By the time I got to
twenty-five and very much older I had to get things together. It would have been nice had I not had a child straight away. Instead of having to prepare baby clothes and a baby layette and all the bits and pieces you had to buy like prams and cots and everything else it would have been nice to have just enjoyed each other and being home and back in the family and all that,
with the family and enjoyed your parents and so forth.
Did you feel like when you talked to civilians who hadn’t been in the services do you think they understood what you had been through?
I don’t think so. I don’t think they really felt women had been through anything much. They knew the boys had but not necessarily the women. I sure they didn’t. We hadn’t been through anything. It was something we had voluntarily
gone into and mostly enjoyed so I don’t feel it was a real strain except that you were away from your family and friends I guess. I don’t feel physically you had to endure because you were well fed and you were free to get about and do things even in the services
once you’d clocked off and come home. I think quite a few girls in Sydney and Melbourne might have lived at home too. In bigger cities with more people they probably lived at home. There again once we had the child and our daughter. I only ever wanted girls. There was nothing about boys. I didn’t want any boys at that point. Ron only had a
sister and having had brothers all he wanted was it was going to be a girl. And of course you didn’t have any ways of knowing what you were getting in those days and you just wondered what you got. He was just over the moon when it was a little girl. He calls her “My special daughter, my precious daughter” or something. He said, “My favourite daughter” because he’s only got one.
He’s always doing things for her. She is very close to her father and the boys are too they get on good with their Dad but girls are different.
You mention that in hindsight you wished you put off having a child for a while but I’m just wondering what other problems did you encounter adjusting to civilian life?
Well of course having to live at home with your
parents it wasn’t quite the freedom as you would expect in your own home. We were anxious and waiting to see how we were going to get a home. Eventually of course we did but it was very hard at first. It was very, very first. I think you felt that if you were with your parents it would give you the opportunity to save a bit too with not have to run a
home. It wasn’t easy to get houses. You couldn’t borrow money like you do now. People say, “I’ll take out insurance.” Well insurance would tie you up in knots and you couldn’t do that either. They wouldn’t have a bar of you. Today they bend over backwards to give you money, “Have some more, have some more.” That was very hard to get money in those days.
What could you and Ron do to get a bit of privacy away from your
We just had a room to ourselves. It was a big room, the biggest room in the house, that Mum and Dad gave us. And we had some easy chairs in there and we could sit in there at night. We didn’t have to be out with our parents. It didn’t worry us very much. You were pleased to see your parents having been
away from them all that time and catch up. Then my parents went overseas but that wasn’t until 1951. I had my third baby while they were away. Christine was 3½ when Mark was born and then there was about 16 months between Mark and Stephen. I certainly had my hands full then. They were lovely. I had no
trouble with them. I was sick a couple of times and ended up in hospital. I had pleurisy a couple of times. With Mark I was a ball of energy and out in front like this. He was 9 pounds when he was born and Stephen was eight and a half pounds so they were very bonny. But Christine was only six pounds 6 I think she was. And she is the fittest and very
fit. She’s never had a sick moment, touch wood. I would have thought I would have heaved her out long before she was due to come out she would have let go and come on. She must have hung on through all the time that I was sick and heaving my heart out. However, I lived and I’m still here.
Why do you think the WAAAF was a success?
Well I don’t really know. I guess we were young people all eager to do their bit for the country and I think that had a lot to do with it, for “King and country,” not that we thought so much of the King and all that. King and country was the idea in those days. We were all young and it was something new and different
and we were doing our bit and I think that was the sum total. I think that is why the WAAAF was very successful because mostly the people that were in it were keen to be in it and were all volunteers to join it in the first place. Like me, a lot of the girls would have thought it was a chance to get away from home unless you got posted back to your state in the end. But to get away from
home and experience new things and a different style of life altogether. I think that’s what it’s all about. As I said earlier, you’ll find when you get amongst girls that have been in the services, it doesn’t matter which one, even nurses, there is this camaraderie amongst each other. You just click and you
talk the same language because you know what you’re talking about. It just brings you close to those people. That’s all it is. You’ve been in the services and you know the same language. I feel that’s what it is. You click with people that have been in the services. And the men say exactly the same.
It is now very well documented that there was a
massive influx of women into working positions during World War II and they then returned to family life at the end of World War II and you were one of those women. You’ve mentioned today that you didn’t think that you would do anything else except become a mum but I’m wondering did you have a sense of loss when you finished with the WAAAF?
I don’t think I did because I was coming into another phase of my life. I was marrying and then having children. I never worked when I was married. Towards the end I thought people were starting to hammer home, “Why doesn’t she go out and do something? What does she want to stay home with children for?” There was that feeling that I found aggressive from some people and it must to make me
mad to think that they’d do that. They’d think, “Why doesn’t she go out to work? Why doesn’t she go out to work? What’s wrong with her?” I knew that because I was asthmatic I couldn’t have coped. I have always been fussy about my house and garden and children and their clothes. I used to make all their clothes like my Mother did for us. I even made my daughter’s ball gown. You can’t
do all those things and go to work and have a personal life. I think that’s why there’s such a problem in marriages today because the girls are trying to do too much. They’re expected to go out and work and then come home and get the meals and do all that and catch up with the ironing and the washing and whatever. Even if they’ve got modern appliances they’ve still got to be looked after. I think that’s how the girls get discontented. That’s my candid view. They are being
pushed all the time. It’s nice to have a job. Towards the end I thought, “Gee I wonder if I want to go back into an office job?” Then I thought, “No, there’s no way I can cope with it.” I did other things. I joined the Red Cross and I worked for fetes and trading tables. I’d go down to the Repat and serve the teas. I had a stint with Meals on Wheels [volunteer group that delivers meals to the elderly] and in the church I was doing things. I was doing those
voluntary things. You can’t do it all. When you’re out working you can’t do that can you? When they come home you’ve got to get a meal on the table and at weekends clean up everything. If they’ve got children they’ve got to get carted around to this, that and the others. A woman is being dragged in all directions and I think that’s what causes a lot of the problems today and I think they’re beginning to realise that too from what I hear and talk.
That is what I think anyway. I might not be right. My friends say the same and they feel the same even girls that are at work. Flora used to go to work in her husband’s business. She only had one child. When she was free to go and her child was at school she used to work in her husband’s office. She was an easy going sort and not much of a
cook or anything. I couldn’t have stood the way she lived but that was her style. It didn’t worry her. She was easy to get on with and a nice girl. It’s a shame now that when I go and see her that she can’t talk to me. It’s really hard to have a conversation when I go. I take pictures and things to show her of the family. She is god Mother to some of the children. And Dris, I haven’t heard from her for a
while. I’m waiting to give her ring and then we’ll go and have lunch in town and go to the Art Gallery. My daughter is one of the volunteer guides in the Art Gallery. We are always going in there to exhibitions and things and then we have lunch there. Dris is into painting and all that. She is another one that is hopeless in the house. I must have been the only one that is fussy. But they’re both good friends and all that. It’s
nice to be casual if it doesn’t worry you. That’s the difference isn’t it? It would worry me but it doesn’t worry them. They’re not even aware of it which is good.
Another thing that you mentioned today, correct me if I’m wrong, I think it was one of your grandchildren tat you mentioned said that you must be a feminist?
Yes that’s my eldest granddaughter.
I’m just wondering when you
hear her say that –
She’s very much a feminist herself. She said that to me she said, “Nana, you were one of the first feminists, the early feminists.” I said, “Was I?” She said, “Oh yes, going off and joining up in the services and going away like that.” She said, “You’re definitely a feminist, Nana.” I laughed. I did it voluntarily but I don’t know about that.
In may respect you were a
pioneer for women in the services?
Yes I guess so. I stepped out early and I was in the WATC before so I had twelve months or so in that organisation.
Why does it make you laugh when she says that about you?
Being a feminist, because I don’t picture myself as a feminist. I was just doing something that I wanted to do and just didn’t
regard it as being a feminist in particular. I’ve always thought that it’s not fair that that fellow at the counter is measuring up material for the ladies, when we used to go and buy material, and he’s getting paid twice as much as the lady that stands alongside of him who is also measuring out material. It used to bug me when I was young. I’ve always thought equal pay for equal work. If the men do
it and a girl is doing the same job they should get the same. I still think that anyway. I hope you girls are being paid properly.
Tell our boss. We are coming to the end of our interview today so we’ve just got a bit of time left for a little bit more reflection. Looking back what do you think you missed about the
WAAAF when you left?
Perhaps just the company of a lot of girls. In our WAAAF Officers’ mess there were always about 20 or 30 girls at least. You would then be chatting and talking and doing things and sharing things with them. That was
something I think I missed, the companionship. Having been an only girl in my family and suddenly there were all these girls around you and you were hearing their points of view and their education. There were some very clever girls. It was just interesting with all the different people and all the different types of activities they had and their education and
home life and all that. I think I just missed the companionship to a degree. I had a husband and a baby to look after and that was wonderful. It was just the company, I think, of a lot of people, to have a lot of people around you. A lot of people shrink from that but I enjoyed having people around me. I suppose that’s why I belong to organisations now that I go to. I still go to
Red Cross. I go down to the Repat for the blood bank, the mobile blood bank. I was there on Tuesday of this week. I was at Flinders Medical Centre helping them there. I don’t do the blood bit the nurses do that but we serve the refreshments with other girls. Again we’re mixing with a whole lot of people and that’s fun and we enjoy that. Being an
Anglican I go into the nursing home here down at Westbourne Park. It’s not Westhaven but the Anglican one is called All Hallows. I go into the nursing home there and do the flowers. I’m on roster to do that and a roster to do the kiosk. Tomorrow is Saturday isn’t it? I’ll be there doing the kiosk tomorrow because it’s my turn to do that. I’m doing things and I like that and I’m amongst people all the time.
At the Red Cross we have our meetings and I go to those and whatever else we get involved in with Red Cross when there are things on. There are fetes and I sew a lot for the fete. My church has a big fete at the end of the year. I’ve resigned this year. I’ve been doing it for about 5 years and it’s sew, sew, sew, sew on the machine there and I’ve had enough of it. I think I’m not going to do it this year. I’ll do the odd thing for something to put on the stall,
arts and crafts. It’s my own work, I call it work but I won’t be responsible for it. Another girl and I did it together. She did all the arty crafty bits and I’m not into that but I did all the sewing and making things. I just said, “No, I’ve had enough. I’ve done five or six years in a row and I’ve had that.” I’ll work for them in that regard and help out the afternoon tea people or whatever they want me to do but I don’t want to be on a
stall in particular. I’m saying goodbye to that this year. I think at 84 it’s time I had a bit of a break. I don’t see much of the fete and I’ve missed out. Somebody’s bought all the plants by the time I get there. When I get to the girls often there’ll be something with a botanical name and I’ll say, “Yes, I’ll have that.” Then I find out when it flowers that I’ve got the identical thing and it’s like a forest in the garden.
When you look back from today on your war time service with the WAAAF what do you think stays with you as your proudest and most treasured memory?
That’s hard. That’s very hard. I don’t know I suppose it was the companionship of the girls rally.
I felt I achieved something. I wouldn’t have expected that I was going to rise to the ranks that I did. I expected I’d just be a clerk general and potter along there and perhaps get to be a corporal or a sergeant maybe. I never expected to go into officer rank. That would be one thing I guess. I met some very nice people doing that. That’s all I can think of.
I just didn’t expect that I would attain what I did although modest as it was and I enjoyed every minute of it. That’s it.
Who was the person that was demobbed? How had you changed from beginning to end?
I wouldn’t have been as knowledgeable perhaps
and as worldly wise too compared to the rather naïve person that went in. I learned a lot I can tell you apart from closing the hangar door. There were those sorts of things and the girls and the things that went on. I was amazed at some of those things. Before I came out they were
changing and demobbing the different girls. The Chief of the Air Staff which was the head fellow for the air force, the RAAF, he always had a PA. That was like a personal assistant, a secretary, and it was always a woman. I don’t know whether they had men in the earlier days but once the WAAAF had grown
experienced enough then they had a lot of people to choose from he always had a girl. And DWAAAF called me in towards the end and said, “Cook, what do you think about being PA to the CAF [Chief of the Air Force]?” And I said, “What?” She said, “So and so is being demobbed would you like to take her place?” I said, “Yes, that would be wonderful.” It would have been
wonderful. Of course the war ended and that was it. They had decided they would appoint men as the girls were going so they would start off afresh with a man. I thought it was quite a compliment to be interviewed with the prospect of doing that. That was nice and it was personally good for me. It flattered my ego. I couldn’t have been too bad could I? Even if I only had my Intermediate.
No, you did very, very well. I’m just wondering as we come to the end of our session and as this record will be going down for posterity and for future generations is there any final message that you would like to put down on record in relation to your war experience?
Well. I don’t know. Just join up and enjoy it
and do your bit. That’s all I can say. Mostly the girls enjoyed it. There weren’t very many that threw in the towel. There must have been a few I suppose but you didn’t hear about it all. You wouldn’t hear it all because after all when there were 30 odd thousand you’re not going to hear what happened to them all are you? There must have been a few that didn’t just fit in and had to give it away. In the main most of the girls had a
great time. You’ve only got to look through some of the books and see some of the fun and games they were enjoying in their recreation time. I think, “Join up and do your bit and enjoy it” and they will.
It’s been an absolute pleasure to speak to you today. Do you have any closing words that you’d like to finish with?
I’d just like to thank you girls for being so nice too. I had no idea how this
interview was going to go. I think it was lovely and you’ve been really, really nice both of you.
Thank you very much, Pamela, it has been a pleasure.