so it was a good day’s trip. But we were able to get fresh fruit and vegies in Griffith or Leeton and it was a family outing when we went there. We learned to do everything on the farm. We could all milk, ride horses and my oldest sisters were all very good cooks, which was needed badly at shearing time when the shearers came in.
They did all the cooking. We were just a very good community. Everybody knew everybody else. They built a little town and built a hall where we used to have lots of dances and everything. Flower shows and whatever. If you had water… most people sunk a dam, or dug a dam, but then sunk bores to get water. When we first went there to live there was no water. There was a farm nearby,
one of the first fellows to go out there and he had a dam and we used to cart the water on a furphy. You’ve probably heard of a furphy. And that was our drinking water, bathing water and everything. Anyway, we grew up there and when the war came my father went back into the army. He had been in the militia [Citizens Military Force] all the way through,
so he went back into the army. And my brother turned 18 and my eldest brother and my sister older than me used to always be together, because the other girls were all older. So when he decided to join up my sister said…I said, “What are we going to do?” And she said, “Well I’m going to join the land army.” She had been in the WANS before which was the Women’s Australian National Service.
So I said, “Well, I will too.” But I was only fifteen and a half and I had just finished school, finished the intermediate [certificate]. We came to Sydney to join and they said “They would take her but not me because I was too young”. So she said “Well, I won’t go either”. So they said, “Well seeing you’re sisters and you’re from the country, we’ll take her.” So they kept us in Sydney and they had a camp at Wahroonga, it was a paddock. The
land army was run by the girl guides and we had both been in the girl guides as well. We had to go to this camp for 2 or 3 days. It was the first time I had been over the Harbour Bridge by train because we had to catch the train over there. What we had to do was the same as we had done in guiding. We had to put up tents, build latrines, make slit trenches to cook our food and just normal
kind of learning what you would do if you were going to camp. When we finished that my mum… I went back home. My mum was staying at Yanco at the time because I had a sister living there. My sister stayed in Sydney with another sister and she was sent to Griffith and I was sent a letter to report to Leeton. So even though we were sisters and they didn’t want me to go, they never
sent us to the same place. While we were in Sydney there were a group of girls and we were on Central Station and there was a group of young soldiers there and at that time was when they were calling up what they were calling the Chocos. Boys who had just turned 18 but hadn’t enlisted, they were called up anyway. We kind of met them and went to a dance
and they went their way. They said “Write to us” and we kept writing and they were the boys who went up to the Kokoda Track. They had hardly any training. So they went off to do what they were doing and we went off into the land army. Now, at Leeton we lived in the dormitories, which was a big building which had been used regularly for seasonal fruit pickers for the canneries. They had big canneries there
and packing sheds, so they used these dormitories for the girls who came from all around. They lived there while they worked. Mostly picking or in the canneries. I’m not sure just which way it was. But we were in camp there and we had a matron and two sub matrons and our matron looked after everything for us. What they did,
the farmers would say how many girls they wanted to work on their properties and the matron had to work these out on a sheet. It was more or less run a bit like the girl guides because we were called patrols and they would have a patrol leader and take half a dozen girls to another farm. They had an old bus and a utility, and if we had to go a long way we would go in the bus or utility. But lots of girls had bikes and they could ride to where
they had to go. The first place that I went to it was a piggery out at Yanco. There were only two of us sent out there because this farmer had prized pigs. His son had gone to the Middle East two years before that. This was in 1942. It was 1941 when we first went into the land army, but this was 1942 and the girl who came with me had been a
Veterinary Science student at Sydney Uni [University], so I was lucky that she… I knew about pigs because my dad had pigs but she knew all the important things about pigs. The styes were terrible. He had beautiful styes but they were all filthy and messy and I remember he was a great big man with big bushy eyebrows and I remember when we got off the bus he stood and looked at us thinking what are these two kids going to do?
But he was very good. He showed us what he wanted doing and he also had a citrus orchard and the styes were kind of mixed up with that. We had to clean the styes out and separate the pigs. There were sows who were going to have litters of pigs, little pigs and that was all interesting. Lindsay was very good. She was the lass who was the science student and when it was time for them to
be neutered I suppose, he taught us how to castrate the pigs, the little male pigs. When we had the pigs going alright and he needed something to be done out in the orchard, we’d go out and irrigate or prune. They’d prune the inside of the citrus trees to keep them a nice shape. Then picking. We stayed there…We probably mightn’t have gone there everyday. We did at the beginning to get
it all cleaned up. If you were needed somewhere else then they’d send you somewhere else. So we had a variety of different jobs to do. Another place we were pruning apricot trees. This was the beginning of the winter, so there was a lot of pruning to be done. Other farmers who had paddocks which they hadn’t been using, which they probably had for grazing had them all ploughed up and planted with vegetables.
Mostly it was carrots and onions and spinach because that could all be canned then and sent over to the troops. We had to supply the food for our own nation as well as the nearby islands, and the troops, and of course we had all the American troops here too that needed extra food. So it was nothing to go out to a farm and see this great big long paddock with rows and rows of carrots, or rows and rows of onions.
The carrots were planted in seeds in rows and we’d have to weed them. So you’d be on your hands and knees with a little thing like a spoon pulling the weed out and hoping not to chop any carrots up. The onions, they made long furrows and they gave us bundles of little onions and you’d go along and plant them and then tread on them and push them in. So in the meantime there’d be grapes, pruning the grapes. There
was a lot of pruning at that time because there were peach and apricot orchards and grapes. So we’d do this pruning. And some of them would need spraying, so spraying had to be done. Then as the seasons went on it was time for picking the citrus fruit before any of the other fruit. They were lovely big trees at Leeton. We had to get up these great big ladders picking the fruit.
There would always be a scream from somebody who grabbed an orange and there would be a great big spider on it. The big spiders used to hang on the fruit, mostly on the sunny side. But if you didn’t see them you’d just grab it and there would be a spider. I wasn’t frightened of spiders but a lot of the city girls were. The girls that were there were mostly city girls. I think there were about five of us who came from the country.
We kind of knew what to do. A lot of them were good horse riders. All the farming implements in those days were horse driven, so you’d be out with a team of horses. One horse on a single furrow plough or if it was bigger machinery then you might have a team of about four. It was interesting work. The city girls worked just as hard as what we did. They
kept up and they were there to do a job and that was it. But the camp, we used to have to get up in the morning and have breakfast and the patrol leader would make sure she had lunch for her patrol that day. So we had to make sandwiches to take out for our lunch. We learned later on if you took…we had Arnott’s biscuit tins to take our sandwiches in. Quite often it was just bread and jam.
We found it was good to make sure our lunch tin was put up high or at lunch time it would be full of ants. But a lot of farmers’ wives would come out and bring us a billy of tea at morning tea time. Some of them would cook scones or cakes. They always brought us a billy of tea for our lunch. Latrines were a bit of a problem because you were out in those paddocks, so the farmer would drive in four poles and
put some hessian around it. But the hessian didn’t cover your feet or your head; you just sat there with your private parts showing. There was a lot of things that people had to learn to do. At weekends we’d have picnics and of course the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] boys were over at Narrandera and they’d come over to Leeton for their weekends. I can remember the cannery manager
came down to our camp and wanted to know if they could have half a dozen girls to go up for dinner one Saturday night because this family were entertaining half a dozen RAAF boys. So I was lucky. I was often chosen for those outings because they wanted the younger girls not the older girls. They were lovely times. A lot of people did put on a lot of entertainment for us. There was a dance hall there but
we didn’t have anyone to dance with unless the RAAF came over on the weekends. The girls used to have a favourite song, “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” because there were only the younger men who were there, because most of the younger fellows, even though they were on farms…I think…well one family… I know where I had my 16th birthday on a farm out at Yanco, the eldest boy had just turned 18
and went into the air force and the next boy was the same age as me. We all became very friendly and on my birthday, there were about 16 of us I think out there, and she came down at lunchtime with a birthday cake. Different little things like that. One farm we worked on and it was raining all the time and we wanted to stop working but we had to keep working. But we didn’t even see that
farmer’s wife. She didn’t come down and bring us tea or anything. I mean that was only one out of … but mostly they were very generous. There were times when we would have to go to where they were harvesting and they’d be making haystacks and we’d go and help stack the hay and collecting all the hay and making the haystacks.
We’d have fun there because you could get up on the haystacks and slide off so long as you didn’t get splinters from the hay, which you did sometimes. At weekend we had to collect firewood because everything was fuel stoves. So we’d make a picnic out of that. We’d get a bus and we’d all go out somewhere in the bush and collect the firewood and have a picnic. We’d cook our meals in the slit trenches.
Quite often if we were having a day like that, we used to invite any of the RAAF boys and get them to come because they could cart the wood around for us. We’d bring the wood back and we’d just have a train… where the wood was tipped, we’d just have a train and pass it along and take it into the kitchen where it had to go. We just made our own fun. They had a swimming pool at Leeton and we used to
go swimming. But often in the hot weather when it was very hot and we were working, lots of the farms had canals and we would swim in the canals. If it was very hot you would just swim in your overalls because you would dry off very quickly after you came out. Well that was a problem. When we first went in we all had WANS [Women’s Australian National Service] uniforms because most of us had been in the WANS and the girls that hadn’t been in the WANS
that joined the land army bought WANS uniforms and I think they could be bought from a place called Peeps, they were tailors. They were nice uniforms but we had to pay for those ourselves. We had to pay our fare to go to where we had to work. I can’t remember exactly what our pay was but I kind of think it was about two pounds a week, which is now… what would that be?
Not very much anyway. We also had to pay for our board, it was called our board. We weren’t paid by the government, we were paid by the farmers. And this was one of the reasons why they said “We couldn’t be the fifth women’s service”, we were never classed as a service. We did everything else though. We weren’t allowed out of camp at certain times. You had to stick to rules and regulations. We did march. We always attended the
Anzac services in any country town we were in, and we marched in a sort of a way. We had learned to march when we were in the WANS. They used to have marching things you know. Real service marching. We found that it was… the dormitories had a mess on one side and then it had… the dormitories were on the other side
and you walked through and it was a big hall. That was where the local people used to have a lot of their special dances. They did have a dance hall right up in the town of Leeton and that was called the Cabaret and they had dances there on a Saturday night. But for any special functions they used to use this dormitory and they were having a Diggers’ Ball while we were there, with debutantes, and they asked some of the girls “If they would like to be debs?”
I said “I would like to be”, and my mother then must have been with my sister at Yanco because she said she would make my frock. To get… we couldn’t get white material and one of the shops in Leeton had a big bolt of pale blue, so all the debs [Debutants] had pale blue uniforms and we had air force boys for our partners. The show was on at this time and I was riding in the show and I got my ankle caught between the horse and a post, so I couldn’t make my debut so one of the other girls wore my frock.
My frock was there. And that was the last Diggers’ Ball they had in Leeton. They didn’t have any more until the end of the war. So later on, I’ll tell you about that later on I suppose… but we had… We used to have swimming carnivals. We used to have hockey matches and play hockey
against the locals girls down in the show ground. On one occasion the air force said they would play against us in hockey. I don’t know how it happened but there were a few Americans too and a few army fellows. There might have been a camp not far out from there that had a few army fellows. So we played hockey against the air force, the army and the Americans.
Another time we were working on the farm out at Yanco where the train goes through Yanco to go to Hay. There was a big troop train going through to Hay and it was all Americans and a lot of them were on open carriages and when they saw the girls - there was a big group of girls working in the paddock - they tooted the train and they stopped the train. We were able to go over to them and they gave us cigarettes and chocolates,
no nylon stockings but plenty of cigarettes and chocolates and chewing gum. They always had chewing gum. Other than that we didn’t see any… I don’t think we saw any other Americans. When you came down on leave sometimes you’d meet them. I stayed there until I think, about January, New
Year’s day I think. That’s right, at Christmas time the air force invited us over for Christmas dinner, but it was very hot weather, and I was on a farm then picking apricots. In those days when you picked stone fruit you went through the trees and you only picked what was ripe enough to be picked. Then you’d go back through the ones the next day until you finished all the fruit. The fruit was always beautiful then because it was picked at the right time.
Christmas Day, we had to go back so the farmer said “If you come out in the morning and pick as much as you can in the morning, then you can go”. Girls who were on other farms, they were taken over. The air force sent over tenders to pick the girls up and then sent one over to pick up the girls who were picking the fruit. By the time we got over there the lunch had almost finished but they had kept lunch for us. When we walked in they were having an ice cream fight.
Ice cream was being thrown everywhere and we got it all over our uniforms, because we still only had the blue uniforms, but the RAAF at that stage, in the summer time had gone into their khaki.
we both went together. We came down to Sydney and then went to Batlow. In the room that I slept in at Leeton there were four girls. Esme came from…well they all came from Sydney. Two of those girls later on, one joined the army and one joined the ‘AAMWS [AAMWS – Australian Army Medical Women’s Service],
so quite often they would change over. But they were all lovely girls and we all got on well together. Two ladies that we had at Leeton during those times were already war widows. Their husbands had been killed overseas. One of them was a country girl. We had a mixture of people. We had hairdressers and stenographers. They just came…
…and dancers. Girls who had been working at the Tivoli. So if we put on a concert they were always there to instruct us what to do. But it was a mixture of everybody, and it didn’t matter where you came from because once you were there you were all kind of on the same level. The older ones helped the younger ones. I got a lot of instruction from a lot of the girls because I was I suppose classed as a bushwhacker and
didn’t know a lot of the things that they knew. It was just helpful and just like a big family. But the work was very hard. I can remember one frosty morning. See it was very hot in the summer time and it was freezing cold in the winter time. On those plains the wind would blow and almost go through you it was so cold. And of course planting all these things, carrots had to be dug in the winter time,
and the ground would be freezing and we’d have great big piles of carrots and sometimes the mud stuck on them and you’d have to get all the mud off. That was pretty cold. But I remember one morning we were picking spinach. The frost was all over it. It was like ice. Gumboots were very hard to get. We had coupons the same as civilian people. We didn’t get any service coupons.
The girls bought most of their… most of the shops in Leeton, all the men’s pyjamas were bought by the girls because they were warm and they used fewer coupons than what the ladies’ pyjamas were. The same with the overalls. We used to buy the men’s overalls. They were fewer coupons than the slacks and things like that. Anyway slacks were no good for working in.
One morning we were out on the spinach and it was freezing cold, and you’re kind of walking between rows of spinach and your legs were getting wet. And I just passed out and the next thing I knew I was sitting in the kitchen and Mrs Browning… and they had asparagus growing… well she was probably cooking asparagus, and she gave me this bowl of asparagus to eat. They were really very caring and they often said that if they hadn’t had the girls there,
they wouldn’t have had the crops that they had. This also happened at Batlow when we went to Batlow. We arrived up there in the mountains. It was summer time when we went there, so it wasn’t too bad. But they had taken over the old RSL [Returned and Services League] hall and it was just like a big tin shed and they only had shutters that opened up for the windows and I don’t think they had any doors on it. They put all of our stretchers in there and
we had palliasses which we filled with straw. The cows used to wander in at night and you’d wake up and there would be a cow trying to pull the straw out of your palliasse. Another place I went to for a little while was further out, and we had to sleep above the stables. We only had nails to hang our uniforms on, and the uniforms had covered buttons. They were covered buttons. We all had leather gloves
and rats used to come and eat the covered buttons because I suppose you would be touching them with fingers out of our gloves. We stayed there… I think we might have been there for two weeks, and we complained about it because you could smell all the horses up in the top. So we were shifted from there. Then they took over… When we were in the RSL, the scouts hall was up the street and around the corner. They took over the scouts’ hall and that’s where they used to cook our meals.
So we would have to get up of a morning, get dressed, wash in cold water… the lavatories were out the back. We didn’t have a bathroom; all we had was a big tin bath. The bath would either be in the middle of the hut or you would take it outside and get half way under it and have a bath in the tin bath. But we had to get up and run around to the scouts’ hall to have our breakfast and cut our lunches to take them
off, and then have tea there again at night. I recall one night they had a bivouac come through from Cowra, the soldiers were learning to drive. Because to get to Batlow in those days it was a very, very narrow mountain road and very steep. These fellows had come out there to practise driving over mountain rocky roads. We were working and we could see this bivouac, all these trucks coming through
and we were all hurrying to get through our work to get home. I don’t think they came back there anymore because once we had our tea we went down and invited them over and said “We’re going to have a dance in the scouts’ hall”. So instead of them being there at night and doing what they went there for, they spent the night dancing with us. We had a couple of girls who could play the piano and there were always little things like that happening.
They took…after a while they took an old boarding house at Batlow, Thrulle [?] House it was called, so we shifted out. There were always new girls who would come in and go to the scouts’ hall and the ones who had been there for a while went up to the old boarding house. They just had beds in every room, and it had a kitchen out the back. We weren’t supposed to go out at night but every so often, we’d go out.
There wasn’t anything to do but you’d just go out and walk around and do silly things. There was a billiard hall down there where a lot of gentlemen used to go and play billiards at night. I remember three or four of us all got dressed up. We painted stuff on our face and just did silly things like poking our face in the door and through the windows. Anyway, whoever was there reported us
and we were told then we had CB [Confined to Barracks] for a couple of weeks, and we had to do… The punishment there was chopping the firewood for the stove, because we all had to take that in turn anyway. If you had been naughty you got extra time on the wood heap. Batlow was a lovely town and the people there used to have lots of house parties, and we got invited to their house parties. And
there again most of the young fellows were away. They had to keep a certain amount of boys at home. The farm I went to first of all, Charlie Bushell, an old German fellow, and he was very hard on the girls. He had a packing shed and it was always freezing in the packing shed. You’d go out and do the picking and then come in and do the packing. We complained that he didn’t have any heating for us.
No hot water to warm our hands because your hands would freeze after packing a few cases of fruit. And the fellow opposite him, I don’t know how he knew, but two of the girls who were working for him, one of them, her boyfriend had just come back from overseas, so she left to get married, and I went to work for him, Reg Cornby. He was just completely different.
So I stayed working there. Most of the time I worked there. It was about two miles out of town, so we used to just walk out every morning and then walk back again. Mrs Cornby in the winter time used to take us into the kitchen and give us a mug of hot soup, and if it was really cold he wouldn’t have us out pruning. We would do as much as we could and he had a big shed out the back with a dirt floor and it would be nice warm dirt.
We would go in there and make packing cases. He taught us how to make the packing cases and you’d be in there hammering away making the packing cases. He had a few sheep in a back paddock and when it snowed we would have to go out and roll snow balls. You’d make snow balls, roll them along and then lay the feed for the sheep. It was very hilly country. He had a paddock which he hadn’t used and he was told he had to put that under cultivation.
It had to be cleared. I’ve got pictures of us. His son was the same age as me. His other son was away in the army and his daughter was in the air force, and we had to root out these great big gum trees. We had two horses with chains on them. We had to dig around the roots and then chain the chains to them and get the horses to pull them out. There were a lot of rocks all over the paddock
because it was on the side of the hill. Some of the rocks were big and they had to be blasted, so we had to run down on this street and make sure no traffic passed while we blasted the stones and then we had to pick up all the stones. Because the hill was so steep we had to walk the horse sideways all the time, backwards and forwards and collect all the rocks. So we cleared all of that and ploughed it and planted potatoes. By this stage I was getting ready to turn
eighteen. When we had finished planting the potatoes, I was called into headquarters, Thrulle [?] House was where the matron lived, and she said “We want you to go on the staff because we’re opening a new camp”. They were opening a camp out at… well still in Batlow but out in one of the other directions, called Frisco Camp, and the CCC [Civil Constructional Corps] had been there and built it.
They were all big tin huts and it was on the side of a hill so… you had to get up into them and they were very cold because the wind would come up underneath them. Myself and Nancy Stewart had come from Batlow when she joined the land army, and she was back there, so there were three of us, Doris Pitty… Doris McArthur and Nancy and I and we went out there and opened this new camp and most of the girls who came there came from Newcastle and apparently
Man Power had done a sweep and they used to go around to all the homes… I don’t know, the factories and everywhere, and the streets they used to say and pick up girls who weren’t doing war work and say, “Well you can go to the land army.” So we had all these new girls came. We had one girl, we christened her Veronica Lake [a Hollywood film star]. Do you know of Veronica Lake? She had long blond hair and the first morning we saw her come out of her hut…
…the latrines were out there so you had to come out to go to the latrines whether it was snow or mud or what. We saw her come out of there and she had on a pink satin gown with slippers. But we christened her and every morning we’d say “Here comes Veronica”. But she went and worked and she worked very well. There were a few girls who came down there who had illnesses which they shouldn’t have had and they shouldn’t have been sent there. So they had to be sent back home.
I was the sub matron, and Nancy, and Doris was our matron. We had to… Being on the staff like that we had to do the cooking. So you had to supply the meals and you had to do all the bookwork and work out who was going to what farm. And chop the wood. We had to do the chopping there; I don’t know why we had to do it. But that was our job, chopping the firewood. While I was there was when I
turned 18, and I thought… I had always thought I would like to join the air force, and when we were at Leeton the boys use to fly over in the Tiger Moths, and if they knew where we were working they would drop us boxes of chocolates. So we got to know quite a lot of the boys. That was in EFTS [Elementary Flying Training School] where they learned on the Tigers. I came down… I was sent really from Batlow
back to Leeton and when I got on the train to come down there were a few of the girls there that I knew and they said “Don’t go to Leeton, come to Sydney with us, come and have a couple of days in Sydney”. I mean you could do that even though you weren’t supposed to. But I only had a ticket to go from Batlow to Leeton. So they talked me into staying on the train and we got to Sydney and one of the girl’s boyfriends who was in the army who had come to meet her, and
he had bought a platform ticket. I don’t know why but he had bought a platform ticket, so I had to use the platform ticket to get off the platform. He could use his leave pass. I went into headquarters, land army headquarters and said “I’ve decided I want to join the air force”. The other girl who was with me at Leeton and at Batlow, she had turned 18 before me and she went into the Amwas [AAMWS]. And Hazel was older than us anyway and she joined
the army. They said, “No, you can’t. We need you as much as the air force and you’re supposed to be at Leeton, so you had better get ready, pack up and go”. And as I came down stairs the WAAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force] recruiting was under the land army recruiting. I hadn’t realised that. So I thought well I’ll just go in a see, so I went and an ACW [Aircraftswoman] came to the counter and [said] what do I want? And I said, “I want to join the air force.” Of course, being in uniform she said
“I had better get madam”. So she went and got a WAAAF officer. I told her the story and she said, “Well what do you want to do?” And I said… We used to mix with a lot of the girls. At Batlow we used to go over to Wagga for the weekends and we mixed with a lot of the service girls over there. The army girls and the air force girls, and they told me “They were taking technical girls”. So I said to this WAAAF officer, “I’ve heard
they’re wanting technical musterings, and …” I only had intermediate, I didn’t have a leaving [certificate], but I could drive. I didn’t have a licence but I could drive. I could do that before I even went into the land army. She said, “What have you done?” I said, “I’ve worked on a tractor and things like that.” So she said, “Fill in the papers and we’ll see what happens.” I did and within about two weeks I had my call up to go into the air force.
I was staying at my sisters… four of my older sisters… Can I tell you this? Four of my older sisters, my dad had brought them to the city to work, because there was nothing for them to do on the farm. Some of my older sisters had married and another two had been sent down to do training at different things because they had only been used to farm work. My dad walked the city with them trying to get them a job.
My dad would never ever buy Federal Matches or Kraft Cheese because they were two Catholic firms who wouldn’t take people who weren’t Catholic. So they ended up getting a job at the woollen mills and dad bought an old house in Marrickville where they lived. They could walk to work from there and if ever we were in Sydney we could kind of go there. So while I was waiting
for this changeover, I was staying there and that’s where I got my call up, from Marrickville. I had been… A couple of my land army friends were down as a matter of fact and we used to go horse riding at Narrabeen. There was a horse riding school out at Narrabeen and I had been horse riding that weekend and I got my call up and I went in. This stayed with me forever while I was in the air force. I had chaffing behind my knees and when I went for my medical and they
asked me what it was, and I told them and they said, “Come back when you haven’t got it.” So that put my… I think I waited another week or ten days or whatever and then they accepted me. We had our medical and everything, and all the girls who were going in… They weren’t all technical girls but a lot were going in to do technical training,
and we were sent to Penrith. They had opened a new RAAF camp at Penrith for WAAAF. It was a WAAAF depot. We went up there. Well that was a mixture of girls. We had two girls who had been Tivoli dancers and girls from every walk of life. We did our Rookies [Rookie Training] there. I think Rookies was about six weeks, and in that time you marched and marched and marched. You marched before breakfast and then you’d have breakfast and then more marching and then PT [Physical Training].
You’d have lessons because we had to learn all the air force rules and regulations; aircraft recognition and lots of different things like that. And learning to live together. We did our Rookies there. We used to march around The Log Cabin, the big hotel motel there on the river bank, and they had a tap out the front
and we’d stop there and have a drink of water on the hot days. I used to always say “When we come back here after the war we’re going to go into the Log Cabin because we weren’t allowed to go anywhere… at 18 you weren’t allowed to go anywhere where there was liquor. Well we did our Rookies there and we used to march right up over the bridge. There’s only that one lane bridge there so someone had to go ahead to stop all the traffic while we went across the back again. Very cold
frosty mornings and you could hardly see where you were going because of the fogs that were out at Penrith. When we finished our Rookies and had our passing out we were sent to wherever we were to be trained and the technical girls went down to the Engineer School in Melbourne, in the show grounds at Melbourne. WT [Wireless Telegrapher] girls also went to the showgrounds. There were WT’s amongst us and
technical girls and I think most of us were because we had a flight of about 40 I think that were all technical girls and we were put in the Hall of Manufacturers. And the boys used to say “The WAAAFS are in the Hall of Manufacturers”. A great big hall like you’d have at the showgrounds and they had partitions across with your little stretchers and one little locker. Out the back was a fuel copper for doing your washing and
the latrines were all out the back. That’s where we did our basic training. We learnt how to use all the different tools, files, different files and we were given a square block with a bit of metal and we had to make that into a proper square. That was that part of it. While we were there, there was a group of Indonesians
and they were doing the same training as us. They only did the basic with us where they were making the tools and we weren’t happy about that but still they were on our side then I believe. They were like little monkeys. They were funny little black people. That was that part of it. Then we had to do technical drawing, electricity and magnetism, which I didn’t understand until I learned the laws.
And maths. And I hated the maths. We went through anyway. Another friend… My best friend in the WAAAF and I used to sit together. And our sergeant used to say, “What are you two working out?” And we could work out the maths and we could pass. Anyway, when it came time for our exams he said “You two can sit together” and we topped the class with our maths.
He said, “Two heads, even like those two heads, two heads are better than one.” Electricity and magnetism - once we learned that I found that good and I loved the technical drawing. I must have liked that and I could do that very well. At the end of those courses… Now there again we marched a lot. Everywhere we went, we had to march. We weren’t allowed out at night.
We had weekend leave now and again because it was a course to get you through in a hurry. There were boys there as well who were training. We had the one big mess where everyone went into the same mess and it’s right next to the Melbourne racecourse and we happened to be there when the Melbourne Cup was on. So we had to stand down at lunchtime and go to the Melbourne Cup.
We had to go through a little hole in the fence. We didn’t go around to… So that was my first Melbourne Cup. The sergeant that we had there, our maths sergeant, I was there over Christmas and he invited one girl from each state to go to his place for Christmas lunch. And I happened to be the one from New South Wales. He took us out there and we didn’t think… We got out there and he had three little girls, and they had bought us a little purse each and we hadn’t taken them
anything. We could have taken them chocolates because we could get chocolates then, but we didn’t think about it. Anyway, we had lunch there and they lived at Brighton so we went down the beach in the afternoon. Melbourne people weren’t… you know, didn’t really invite us out very much. I had an uncle who lived down there so he used to invite a few of us when we had leave. We used to go out to his place at Box Hill.
We used to go to the dances. They had different dances. They had… I can’t remember the name of it now. But there was one dance hall they had in Melbourne with revolving music, so you had continuous music all night. That’s where we saw quite a few Americans, but you didn’t have time to kind of get to know them. There was another dance hall too at the Old Mill and we used to go to the
Exhibition Building and they had seals there. On a Sunday afternoon you’d go there and the seals used to do tricks and clap, and the more you clapped the more tricks they’d did. So that was a good afternoon out. And there was another place we used to go out to, the Balwyn Natural Life… I can’t remember the name of it fully. But you’d go into Melbourne and hop on a train and go to a certain station and they’d have
a covered wagon and you hopped on the covered wagon and they would take us out to this place where they had koalas and… I’ve been there since because we all had photos taken with the koalas. I’ve been there since and the fellow said… I took the photo down to show them and put it up because they were having a bit of a display, and he said “That was the year they had their first platypus born there”. I didn’t remember that but it just happened, that was the same year.
So there were things that we could do. We didn’t have much time off really, but you could find things to do.
aircraft engine apart and put it back together. Refuelling. We didn’t always do the refuelling. Then we had our course and when that was finished I remember we had a passing out dinner in town and I had to go with all the boys, and on the way back… In those days where they kept the sheep was right next door to the showground, and the night we had our dinner in town we were coming
back and the sheep were all across the tram tracks. One of the boys was sick and he had lost his teeth amongst all these sheep. Anyway, he went back the next day and found them. That was just one occasion that I remember. Then we got our postings. They started coming through. The other girls who were ahead of me they all went to Williamtown. They all went together. There was me and girls from other
stations. See they had other places which were engineering schools too, and we were sent to Uranquinty at Wagga, near Wagga. There were 14 of us went to Uranquinty and we went into Major Inspections Hangar and 12 boys went up north as soon as we got there. We were very lucky.
We had a flight sergeant and a corporal who had been over in the Middle East and they hadn’t been long back from the Middle East and they were there. They had never seen the girls before and Flight Sergeant Row, he was fantastic. He got us all together and said, “I know you’ve all just come out of the course…” We had one girl there, she was a 2E, which meant she was a flight mechanic and she had been through that and she went back and did a refresher course and became a Fitter 2E, and he said
“I don’t want you to worry about anything, if you don’t know anything ask me. I don’t want you to guess at anything.” I’m here for you, and everything just worked out fine. He was always there with us when we were working anyway. Each plane has a log book and they used to come to us after they had done 200 hours and they had to be completely stripped down.
New rings if they needed them or whatever and put back together again. When the test pilots came into the hangar to take them up they just looked at the WE77 and… you had to sign for each little bit you did in the WE77 and they’d just pick out somebody and say, “I’m taking it out on a test flight, do you want to come with me?” And you had to go, if you said no, then they wouldn’t take it.
I did a few of those and I didn’t like that very much. The last one I did… I used to… The padre, the Salvation Army Padre had a hut and he used to make milkshakes and you could have your dinner and come out and have a milkshake or an ice cream and things like that and I used to help him there. This was a very hot day and he said to me, “Are you going to have a milkshake?” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “I’ll put a bit of extra ice cream in.” Of course I went up and there was the test pilot
and I said, “Sir, I shouldn’t go up I’ve just had a double milkshake.” And he said, “Oh well, you know what happens. If you go up and you’re sick, you’ve got to clean the plane out.” And I said, “Yes, but I don’t think I should go up.” He insisted and I was sick. When we came down and got out of the plane, he said to me, he said, “You had just better go back and I’ll clean it up.” I thought well, I had warned him.
When you went up on a test flight they did everything. They rolled off the top and dived and you just had to sit there. You couldn’t move. Your hat wouldn’t fall off and you could bring your knees up when it started and you just couldn’t move. I used to wonder how they did it because they were experienced and they had to be very fit. But I didn’t relish the test flights really.
It was nice just flying around but when they went through the paces it was pretty desperate I thought. I did that a few times. That’s when I got burnt. We had a couple of new boys who had come in and we were refuelling a Wirraway, getting it ready for its test and he took the hose out and I was down the bottom and he was up on the main plane and he took the hose out before he turned it off, and
got it all over me. Luckily the flight sergeant was there and grabbed me and put me under a tap and nearly drowned me. I must have got some in my eyes because I have had a bit of trouble with my eyes since, and he said, “Just as well you had your mouth closed because you would have been suffocated if it had gone down my throat.” We had jeans all in one piece and they pulled my jeans off down to my waist and didn’t think about my legs
and by the time the ambulance came up and cut it off and that’s why I get a lot of dermatitis. I used to get a lot of it on my hands but that seems to… I use cortisones and that stops all of that and on my face. But I still get these jolly cancer things on my legs and I have to have those cut out every so often. But it took me then 20 years to get recognition to get that because they had on my medical
sheet, eczema behind my knee from my medical. So they’re pretty strict, but it took me 20 years before I got… first of all they kept on saying “No, no.” And I saw a specialist when I had it pretty bad. I used to get ulcers in between all my fingers and around my face, and I saw this fellow down at North Sydney, and he wasn’t a Repat [Repatriation] doctor.
He just couldn’t believe… They said “I had very dry skin and I had eczema”. Well I do apparently have dry skin, fair skin anyway, and he said, “Well we’ll see about this.” And he said, “Can you get somebody else to act for you?” I had been to all the welfares at the RSL and the Air Force Association. One fellow who acted for me was a light horseman. He said “He had always had the chaffing too but that didn’t help repat”.
This doctor said, “Well I’ll act for you,” and if you can get a doctor to act for you it’s half the battle. He took them on and he said, “Well you accepted Mrs Van Emden. You knew she had dry skin and you knew she had eczema, you should never have let her do a technical muster where she was going to be with fuel and things.” That’s how he won the case for me to get treatment, and then from then on I just kept on applying for more and more.
We’re coming towards the end of this tape. I would just like to wrap up this tape by asking you about your memories of VJ [Victory over Japan] day?
VJ Day? I don’t remember if we knew it was coming close or not. But we were having a dance and everybody was dancing and it was announced at the dance and then the dance just went on all night then. Everybody was kissing and dancing and everything. And there was a boy that I knew from Griffith, that I had known from Griffith and he was… he had been to Canada and came back. Terry Gee. And he was
a shy boy and he came to me and said, “Look I’ve just been sent a couple of tins of peaches. Do you want to come and join me and we’ll celebrate eating these peaches?” So I said, “Yes alright.” So he went off to get the peaches and we had a blanket or something. We used to call it the prairie; that you were out on the prairie. And we were… It was in August wasn’t it, so it must have been a bit cold because we had a blanket and he was sitting on the blanket and we must have had our great coats and we were sitting there eating these peaches and the SP’s [military police] came around.
They wanted to know what we were doing. We said, “We’re just eating these peaches.” We went back to the dance afterwards, but anyway he said, “You’d better get back to the dance,” but he didn’t believe we were just eating peaches. The next day we were allowed to go into Wagga. It was a stand down day. They had tenders to take us in. They were supposed to pick us up at a certain time and I don’t know if we forgot or what but anyway
we were stuck in Wagga and had to stay the night, a few of us. And the next morning they came in with a tender to pick us up and on the way back everyone was talking about what happened on VJ night and all the celebrations because in Wagga they celebrated a lot more, but we were all in our own unit. But that’s what we did. We had the dance and we danced all night and singing and how happy everybody was, you know. This SP was on the bus and he said, “You’ll never guess what I saw out
on the prairie last night and they told me they were eating tinned peaches.” I didn’t let him know that it was me, but he was telling everybody. But it was wonderful that it was all finished. The hangars closed down and I went into the education office then, and we were then doing all the papers for the people getting discharges and what courses they could do. It happened pretty quickly. Flying stopped straight away anyway.
I was there until my discharge came through, then I came to Sydney. But the sad part about it was, see my best friend while I was there came from Perth and in those days you never ever thought that you’d be… I mean, to go down to Melbourne to do the course, it was the first time I had been out of New South Wales, and that was with a lot of people. Going to different places that they had never been to before.
That was the sad part. You see people going to different… We had a lot of Brisbane girls and from different states. And boys. And you were kind of saying goodbye to them thinking you would never see them again. So it was happy but it was sad in that way. They were wondering what they were going to do when they went home. Some already knew what they were going to do and others didn’t. It was just very mixed feelings. A lot of people
came to Sydney because they had a big march in Sydney. I don’t know why we didn’t. I think they just picked out certain people. I don’t know if anybody from our unit did or not, but we didn’t anyway.
But they stopped there and they stayed there for 12 months. And I always thought it was Simontown but it’s only since we’ve done this history on grandfather… he went to the Sudan war and it’s only since we’ve done the history on that that we found out that it’s another funny little place. And then they came from there, and they must have had a grant or something at Botany Bay, because they lived at Botany. They had two other sons and then grandfather…
I think there were only the three in the family. I can’t recall if there were any girls or not. Then when grandfather was… My grandfather was 25 when the Sudan War was on, and he… now since we… we spent a few days out at the War Memorial and got all this news, and he joined up one day and sailed the next day to the Sudan and I… All the councils in those days
used to have bands and he was a bricklayer by trade. He must have played… I always thought he played a big silver thing but anyway when he went to the Sudan he was a side drummer and a stretcher bearer. And looking through the list now that we’ve got, most of the fellows who went away to the Sudan were Englishmen who had been permanent army fellows. There must have been a few Aussies.
And there had to be people who could care for horses and shoe horses and brassiers, not brassiers, whatever it is. They went to the… The ship that he sailed on - we’ve got all of this now; the ship they sailed on and where they went and the various… They weren’t in very many battles, but they went to different places where the battles were or where they had been.
I think they were only away for six months and then they came back again. But that’s where they came from and I can remember my grandfather telling me that they, my great grandfather moved up to The Belenger. There was a timber mill up there because they had all the rosewood. My great grandmother couldn’t stand the heat and the meat used to go bad
and the milk sour. Coming from Scotland I suppose. And she didn’t like it, so they moved back to Botany. That’s about all that I know of that family except the two uncles. One uncle married and the other didn’t and they lived in Parramatta. And Uncle Bob was Coral Master for the Methodist Church in Parramatta. So they lived together. One was married and the other wasn’t, but they lived together.
I don’t think the married one had any children, and they had this house in Parramatta. And it was after the Second World War that Uncle Bob was living there on his own. He hadn’t married and was very sick and my mum came to Sydney to nurse him. She had been in the VADs [Voluntary Aid Detachment] and the Red Cross and everything through both wars I suppose, the second one anyway. So that’s when they moved to Parramatta to live there with Uncle Bob.
But I can remember visiting them when we were young, and do you remember C. Aubrey Smith? An actor? He was a British actor and he had that real British accent, and these two uncles were the same. I can’t remember my great grandfather but my grandfather did too. Not as much as them because they were young people when they came out from Scotland.
When you look back do you think he was affected by the war?
I wouldn’t have thought so because I was down near the youngest. See I was the 10th in the family and I know that he was always…well having so many girls, he was very fond of the girls and as far as he was concerned the girls could do nothing wrong. And yet my brother used to get into a lot of strife. My sisters talk about this now. I can remember him getting a hiding once with
my dad’s strap because it was Easter time and the girls had all been given Easter eggs. Ronny, Beryl and I used to go around to the rabbit traps - this is how I could talk to the boys. We used to go around the rabbit traps and collect the rabbits, and you’d put the skins on a wire fence and people would come around collecting the furs. And I can remember this morning Ronnie saying, “We’re going around the rabbit traps this morning,” but… he used to skin a rabbit and cook it and we’d eat it you know when we were out. But he said “We’ve got all these Easter eggs”.
And apparently he had taken all the girls’ Easter eggs, and I can remember coming back and dad belting him with the strap. I thought too much because we didn’t get into trouble at all. And I’ve heard my sister say that mum had to stop him. I don’t think that he was really. I think they all must have been to a certain degree, but they…
I think everybody was the same. I never heard him talk about it very much. They’d say different things. I can remember when it was Anzac Day and they’d get different ones and they’d get up talking about what they did. But they always made light of it you know. Talking about this joke that you hear over and over now about going along and seeing this hat moving along in the mud and the fellow pulled the hat up and the fellow said, “Come on mate,
we’ll help you out of the mud.” And he said, “You’ve got to get my horse out as well.” Things like that you’d hear them say. And I can remember when there was gas, when there were gas attacks, they’d all talk the same, and they’d all talk like we were all in it. And I can remember once they were in a place and a German had been killed outside their tent and he had fallen across the front of the tent.
And by the next morning he was frozen and they just walked over him. While they were in that spot they, just to walk over this dead body that was frozen. Different things like that. No, they didn’t seem to show the effect. Anybody that was gassed… there was a fellow who lived opposite us and he’d been gassed, he used to talk about it a lot. And I think the
reason that they probably didn’t was that there were so many of them together and they were all in the one boat and they were out there running these farms and they had to really work hard. A lot of them got into strife. My dad got into strife. The first farm he was on, he lost. He was down in Sydney getting a loan, trying to fix up another loan and the bailiffs came and just [threw] us all out. And there were only girls then and he shifted us out of our house and put us out on the road which was about two miles from the house.
And the people in the next place took us in there. They were really hard on them. They wouldn’t give them anything. His brother, Uncle George, was the Managing Director of Coopers Engineering, so dad could get a lot of the farm equipment. He had to pay for it but he probably got it cheaper, and everybody around would use it. And I can remember him saying that “If he wanted to use his harvester or something he would have to
go and get it back and most likely it would be broken down”. He’d have to fix before he brought it back. Different things like that. The only time we really heard them talk about the war would have been Anzac Day when they were all together. In that case it was kind of chiacking each other you know. I think having a family of girls he probably wouldn’t have talked about it as much as
if there had been boys. I don’t know. I don’t know.
Terri was my first mate. Terri came from Bondi and she used to write poetry and read books. We would always find Terri with a book, and she could write beautiful poetry. Wrote some lovely poetry. We kind of just went the three of us, and then Ethel went off with somebody else, and she left the land army before me.
I don’t know why she left. Whether she had to go home or why she left. Then she was working out at Canberra as a house maid in Government House I suppose. I used to write to her when she was out there. Then she had met a few Americans. Being around where the people were, you could meet Americans. I mean we met a lot of Americans too, but you couldn’t spend a lot of time with them. If you were in Sydney, I can remember
a group of us went out with a group of American sailors. See, American sailors were in the Grand Hotel. You wouldn’t know where that was. That’s up the end of Barrack Street. That was a beautiful big hotel there with Sydney lace all over it. And that used to be the… the RSL there used to be… what did they call it? The same as the American one… Anyway, you could go there any time and they had dances and everything.
David Jones was on the corner and that was an ex-servicewomen’s home where you could go and stay, but it was a bit dear, and they weren’t real keen on land army going in there. I don’t know, I never stayed there but I heard a lot of the girls saying “They weren’t treated nicely in there by the other servicewomen”. Well I never had that problem. There were three or four other girls who were at Leeton, and they left and they joined the army and they went into the ack ack [Anti Aircraft] and searchlights and
they were at Kapooka when I was at Batlow. So they could get cigarettes and chocolates because we all smoked, and we used to take them apples from Wagga, and they’d give me cigarettes and chocolates. But Wagga had an ex-servicewomen’s place where you could come and stay near the park in Wagga. If we had a weekend off in Batlow, there was a fellow there, Aussie Butts, he had a big Buick 8 and he used to fit about 10 of us in and he would drive us
over to Wagga and we’d spend the weekend. And we used to stay at that ex-servicewomen, and we were always treated the same as other ex-service girls. But I’ve heard a lot of girls say that “They were snubbed by other servicewomen”. I never was because it was talking to those girls that I found out that they were going to have technical musterings. What were we talking about, the camps?
At Batlow, at Leeton. I don’t know, you kind of got your own group of friends. You were friendly with everybody but you had your own ones. When you got letters you shared it with them and they helped you write letters and you just knew their family and they knew your family. Well the whole four of us in our room, we all got on very well together. Esmay came from Hurstville somewhere
but she ended up marrying a farmer from Leeton and she stayed there and had a family. Judy now lives at West Ryde but I think they were just selling their place because I think her husband’s been sick. And Hazel went into the AWAS [Australian Women’s Army Service] and she’s now in the Kokoda Rooms over at War Vets. The Ex-Servicewomen Association, we got together and raised a lot of money, and we
built… we were given a bit of land at War Vets and we built units there, but they were only for necessity ex-service women, and the land army wasn’t included in that which was a shame because the land army worked for it. They worked for it because they wanted to. Then Hazel had problems. Her husband left and she had problems, and she got into… it’s called Friendship Village. There’s about eight little units and they’re very nice. She was in there
and they found her wandering around one day, she hadn’t been taking her medication, so now they’ve built this new unit out at War Vets and it’s called Kokoda and it’s beautiful. And she’s got one of those rooms. We’ve been over there to visit her a few times. You know when you had friends like that, they always stayed your friends.
kind of…we wrote…there was a crew of us and we wrote to them, but one in particular that I wrote to, we kind of thought it was serious young love, and then when he came back I had somebody else. He must have had a girlfriend before I think because it didn’t seem to take him long to get another girlfriend. But we still kind of stayed friends, but I don’t think he was badly injured or anything.
Except mentally. I mean they went through hell up there. It was strange because you’d meet a lot of people and you’d keep in touch with them. I was looking through my pictures yesterday and these boys that we met in Wagga… we must have been there for the weekend, so we must have spent the whole weekend with them. One, he was at Kapooka, this fella I was with, there was a group of us, and we’d been
writing, and the next thing I got a lovely letter from his mother with a picture of him and his brother in uniform. I was looking at the back of the picture yesterday and I think what a shame because we weren’t really serious and he must have told his mother something, and she sent me a picture. And I can’t even remember his name now. I’ve often thought I’d love to send the picture back because it was of him and his young brother both in their uniforms. And it was lovely what she had written on it.
I can’t remember his name now… “Has asked me to send you this photo,”… and there was this photo of him and his name. I’ve got the photo in there. I suppose some people attach more things to others. I mean, you wouldn’t see people for that long. We used to go over to Wagga and we were over there when the marines came back from Guadalcanal and they had had a terrible time, and they weren’t allowed into Wagga.
They put them on the other side of the river, and none of the service girls… this was when I was still in the land army, none of the girls were allowed to mix with them. Because they were marines and engineers they built a big pontoon and they had their own band, and they built this big pontoon that could come right across the river. And they had a little walkway, although we went across the bridge, and they invited us over and they had their own band. Civilian girls could go.
But none of the service girls could go, but we could go over and we used to dance. We were only there for a weekend. It might have been the Friday night we met them and then we had the Saturday and all they wanted to do… the two that we kind of linked up with, all they wanted to do was to see the sheeps, they hadn’t seen any sheeps. So we used to go horse riding and there was a riding school there, so we took them out riding out to where the paddocks were. They were only young kids. They were not much older than me.
They were only there for a while and then they went back up and took Guadalcanal. We kept in touch for a while. I’ve written to the marine corps over there just to find out if he ever went back home, but I never got a reply. Sad really, isn’t it? And there’s no memorial in Wagga for those boys who were there. I don’t know, they might have only been there for 3 or 4 months, because I think we only saw them that once when we were over there.
But they’ve got memorials all round the park for everybody else. I’ve written to the Council down there to say “There should be some sort of memorial to say they were there, because they were the 1st Division of the Marine Corps, and they just ignore it”.
So you know, what’s the difference? And as I say the Yanks weren’t allowed to come across the river. They were mostly young fellas who had probably been through Boot Camp in American and sent to Guadalcanal, because they were only young. I don’t know. If you were with an American and an Australian serviceman saw you, they would give you a sneer. But that didn’t worry me anyway.
We were always not on our own. There were always a couple of us. I can remember one night we were in town and we must have been to the Women’s Weekly Club for something and we came out… we used to always go to the Trocadero, they would have dances every night and service people could go. And we came out and there was this American standing by the GPO [General Post Office] and he had his eye all bandaged up. One of the girls said, “Look at the poor Yank over there on his own. Why don’t we go and ask him to come to the dance?”
So we talked about it and over we go and asked him. We still keep in touch with him, and he says, “I can always remember you asking me to come to a dance.” I said, “Well that wasn’t me.” So we took him to the dance and he had a good time. But the Yanks didn’t really… the fellas who jitterbugged were great, but others - all they did was just stand and kind of sway around. He had an injury in his eye and he was down here recuperating. Well we only ever saw him the once
but we’ve kept in touch and he and his wife have been over here to visit and we’ve been to visit them. Most of them just wanted company and he was just standing there. The sailors, we met a few of the sailors because they used to be up in the Grand United Hotel. What did they call it, the Stage Door Canteen, which is where the Combined Services is now. They’ve got a plaque on the wall to say
that. We’d meet them in there and you’d dance with them and they’d go home and we’d go home. I think we ended up meeting two of them the next day and we went to Luna Park. That was a place that everybody went too, Luna Park. They just wanted company and you hear all kinds of stories about them but we didn’t have any bother. They’re only two that… well Al
Ridge… but just one night at a dance that was. And Richard Pervisky. See a lot of them had foreign names, and he was…I’ve forgotten where he came from now, he was in the marines. But you’ve only got to look at the photos. We had a photo taken together and he was only a kid you know. That’s all they wanted to see… the sheeps. They had a lot of funny ideas. They didn’t know where they
were. They didn’t have a clue where they were. Wouldn’t have even known where Australia was, and here they were in the middle of it. I didn’t have any problems with them. We often met up with them because they could certainly jitterbug. If you went to a dance and jitterbugged, they could teach you anything. But they were the younger ones too.
But that got a bit cool and it must have been when I was getting ready to turn 18, but Van… We just knew my husband as Van and he used to come over. And the girls used to say, “Van’s coming over. We’ll go to the dance tonight.” But he didn’t like dancing very much. And everybody would want to dance. Anyway, it would get to the stage and he would come over and say, “I’m not going dancing tonight, I want to go to the pictures.” And I would say, “No, I don’t want to go to the pictures.” So he would go to the pictures with some of the other girls and I’d go to the dance.
That kind of went on and then he went up north up to New Guinea, up to Milne Bay and that was when I decided I was going to join the air force, and this fellow I had been going with said, “Well if you join the air force then that’s it, we’ll break it up.” So I thought well you’re not going to tell me what to do, so that was it. So then when I went and joined the air force and I was down in Melbourne,
and I knew Van was still up there and we were still writing, and it was kind of on again off again. We weren’t allowed to have much leave when we were on course and I was in lessons one day and a runner came down… “ACW Ferguson, you’re wanted in Madam’s office.” And they always threatened us that if we didn’t pass our course we’d end up in the cookhouse. We didn’t want to go into the cookhouse. Not that there’s anything against the cooks but we didn’t want to do that.
When we had gone for technical we wanted to do technical. So I had to go up to Madam’s office and I said to the runner, “Does she look angry, what’s happened? Have I done anything wrong?” He just didn’t know. I said, “Well did she look happy or unhappy?” He didn’t know. So anyway, when I got in there she said to me, “Have you got a boyfriend up in New Guinea?” And I thought, oh heavens, a boyfriend! Because we considered they were all boyfriends
if we were writing to them. I just said, “Yes,” and she said, “Well he’s here and he wants to see you.” And it was Van. He had just come back from New Guinea and he had come all the way down from Melbourne. I don’t know why because he knew we weren’t supposed to have leave but he kind of had the cheek to go and ask “If we could have leave and could I go out that night?” So she said “Yes, I could”. It must have been the Friday night because it was getting near the weekend and it was the weekend we had off, so we could go out. So he stayed for the weekend.
He took me into town and we had dinner. We had Chinese. I don’t think I had had Chinese before that because they were all Greek restaurants out in the country. He booked to go to theatre and of all things it was “Jack the Ripper” and I didn’t like pictures anyway, but to see this terrible thing. He took me around to his hotel and it was a funny little hotel. We went to go in the lift to go up to his room because he had something he wanted to give me.
Anyway they came rushing over, no servicewomen allowed to go up to the men’s rooms and they made us look silly with all the people there, and who should be there but his dentist from Maroubra. He lived at Maroubra. He came over and said, “Oh yes, Van Emden taking servicewomen up to your room.” Anyway they said, “You can’t go up,” so he went up and all it was was a photo. That photo. He had it taken when he got back from New Guinea. So we went and saw “Jack the Ripper” and he took me back to camp and of course he wasn’t allowed to go down
to where we were. It was all dark and it was terrible. He said, “Can I kiss you goodnight?” And I said, “No.” And that more or less was the start. So he was there that weekend and we got a group together and we had a picnic at Fairy Land or something. We kind of more or less started going together a bit more seriously from then. It just went on. He was at Wagga. He was at Forrest Hill when I was at Quinty,
and we used to work seven days a week, and at the end of three weeks they’d give us three days off and we could go to Sydney. So we used to hop on the train. We’d get the train coming through from Melbourne at about seven o’clock that night and be in Sydney by the morning. So we would sleep all the way down and then have the whole wild weekend and back again.
He didn’t come then but that’s when we probably would have met some of the Americans. That’s when we had a bit of time in town. When there were functions on at Forrest Hill, well we’d go over. I was in the Christian Endeavour at our camp because we used to have functions. It was something to do and it was very nice. We’d have nights when we’d get together with the Christian Endeavour over at Wagga,
but he didn’t belong to that. He wasn’t in that. So I got a message in to say we were coming over, so he said, “Well, I’ll go tonight,” and it was the day I had been burnt and I had all this white zinc all over me, so I couldn’t go. And he’s never forgiven me because he went to this Christian Endeavour thing and he said it was terrible. People were getting up and saying, “I used to belt my mother until I saw the light.” So he had to put up with that all night. But he was very dependable.
Sometimes we would have flights going out and we would have a day leave when we could go to Wagga. We couldn’t go until the last plane came in and they would come in a bit late and we’d have to wait until the last plane was put away and everything. But the tender would be gone but he had a motorbike… they had a club. He was a corporal then and they had their club and I knew I could get him on the phone. So I would ring him up and say “We can’t get to town.
Can you come and get us?”, and he’d come over on this funny little motorbike and take off us. And we had tight skirts so we had to pull our skirts right up around our knees and we’d say to him, “Let us off before we get to town.” But of course he didn’t. He drove right up the main street with all the airmen and soldiers, and with us with out… We’d have to put our hats in between us, and we didn’t have girdles in those days. You just had garters for your stockings.
But he was dependable. If we got stuck he would always come and pick us up and take us into Wagga for a meal. I don’t know. It just started from there and I knew he was dependable. You couldn’t always depend on aircrew. Aircrew fellows were here today and gone tomorrow. This is why I can say they were always thought of a bit more of by the public. Well you didn’t know when they were going over and you didn’t know when they were coming back.
I mean you didn’t know with any of them but there was much more risk with aircrew, and they used to like to have drinking parties a lot. So there you are. That was that.
We were certainly taking over more at functions. Even during the war when there were concert parties and things, you’d have to talk the boys into coming into them. Some of them wanted to, some of them were singers and could act and that, but the girls would more or less run everything. And get everything going. Sports wise, the girls were all pretty good.
They’d play hockey against the boys and we’d win. Just playing ordinary sports days… you had a sports day at least once a week, and just playing tunnel ball and things like that. I think the girls were always more enthusiastic than what the boys were. I don’t know. I think we felt we had kind of made our mark and were doing things
that girls hadn’t done before. And I think even just leaving home and going away, this was a thing that a lot of girls noticed, that they left home and joined up and their mothers didn’t want to know them anymore. They joined the service and that wasn’t the right thing to do. But the boys were heroes but the girls were not wanted. That happened to a few girls. “You’re running our name down by going into the service”. Because a lot of people thought that.
A lot of people thought that service girls… a lot of single girls didn’t like to think that the girls were in camp with their boyfriends, and they made up all sorts of nasty things that they used to say. That didn’t bother us, we knew what we were doing. I mean we got health talks and sex talks and everything. I remember one of our WAAAF officers saying that she was talking to the CO [Commanding Officer] and he said “I hope your girls know all about the birds and bees”. And she said, “They do,
don’t worry, they’ve got it up here.” And he said, “I don’t care where your girls have got it, my boys will find it.” This was the way the boys felt. He said, “We’ve got all these virile young men here and your girls down there, you just make sure they know what’s going on.” And it was the way they felt. That the girls could do what they wanted to do. This was the way the people talked but it wasn’t like that. We were given great respect from the boys really.
Now and again there was… One girl went out with this fellow and she said to us when she came back, “Next time if you go out with this fellow wear your great coat back to front.” And funny things like that they used to say you know. Well you just didn’t go out with him because that was enough warning. But no, I don’t know I found that anywhere, I worked with the boys, they were… they treated us more
or less as one of them, but they wouldn’t swear in front of us. No, they were good. If we needed any help they would help us. Well I didn’t have any problem in the land army either. I can remember when this did happen and we did go into the hangar and one of the girls was crying later on and one of the boys had said to her, “If you hadn’t have come in,
we wouldn’t have had to go up north.” And he upset her and she was a girl who would be upset anyway. We just said, “Don’t take any notice of him.” He didn’t want to go, and we said, “Wait until he comes back”, and when he came back, “Oh yes, he’ll be returned and he’ll be a real hero.” He’s returned. But he didn’t think about how he upset her before he went. But that only happened every blue moon.
of course. We were there to replace what they did when they went away. It wasn’t only technical girls but in the offices and everywhere. There were girls who were doing the weather and the electricians, armourers, the girls looking after all the guns. It just made it easier. Some of the recruiting things that were put out, you’d see
an AWA[S] … one particularly nice one and an AWA[S] sitting at a desk doing clerical work and a soldier standing there with his gun saying, “Thank you for doing this, now I can go up north?” All this recruiting thing was put out. No, most of them just accepted us I think. And I never felt we were breaking into some new. I knew we were by being technical because they used to always say to us,
“Girls are now mechanics.” But I think that was starting to happen anyway. I know, as I say, working with my grandfather on the property and he’d say, “Come over here. I can’t get this out. Put your hand in and get it.” I didn’t know then that he was a Sudan War veteran. It wasn’t until he was in hospital when I first went into the land army and I went into see him.
When he saw me in uniform he said to me, “You can have my medals,” and I’ve still got his medals. But my brother was to have them really but he died very soon after the war from injuries that he had, so they came to me. And that’s why I’ve wanted to find out more about it because I would never have known. He never talked about it and I don’t remember my dad ever talking about it.
So that’s just something that you learn. I think the women have done a lot since the war because they broke out, and they had all been used to being at home. And I think that was a bad thing. This happened to a lot of girls, that their parents didn’t want them. And I’ve spoken to women now and they say, “You were lucky you were in the services, I wanted to join, but my boyfriend told me he would break it
off if I joined. And my parents wouldn’t let me join and wouldn’t sign the papers.” I just say, “Oh well, my parents didn’t mind,” so that was that. You know, it’s sad really. Perhaps they were doing jobs they should have been doing anyway, but they weren’t given a choice.
No, I don’t think so. I enjoyed it all and kind of just sailed along and kept up with the crowd. I was hoping all the time when I was doing my basic course at the Engineering School that I would become a mechanic. I wanted to become a mechanic or an armourer. Most things…
Maths was my downfall. And just as it happened, it was Pat who was with me. I could remember the formulas and I was dreadful at multiplying or subtraction. But we kind of passed out together and we didn’t use it at any other time anyway. There was no time when being a mechanic that you had to have maths to know whether this ring will fit that
or whatever you know. It was just one of the things that you had to pass out with. No, I don’t think so. You had physical culture quite a lot. I just seemed to go along. I enjoyed the marching, and of course marching was to bring you up to a physical standard and obedience. You knew that if you were told to stop, you stopped immediately and you know. That was the thing
in the air force, you had to obey everything. I know when I got burnt I used to have to go down to the sick bay a couple of times a day and get this zinc stuff scraped off and put new stuff on. And we always had to wear our hat with a chin strap, our fur felts in the summer time. When I was down at the doctor I said to him, “I’m having trouble putting my chin strap on,” and he said, “Well don’t put it on, I’ll give you a chit
to say you didn’t have to wear your hat.” Well all around the base there were certain saluting orders and you had to salute, so you had to have your hat on. And when I was coming back a WAAAF officer was coming along and I thought well I don’t have my hat on and I don’t have to salute, so I just smiled at her and she called me back. She said, “You didn’t have your hat on. You didn’t salute.” And I said, “No, I’ve got a chit to say I don’t have to wear my hat.” But I didn’t pick the chit up.
It was given to me but I had left it there. So that was that and she said, “Well come and see me when you stand down.” I went and saw her and I was going home, they were letting me go home the next day, and that night I had to scrub the rec room out on my hands and knees. And I went home and this was after everything else, I went home…Well I went to Sydney and my dad happened to be there at the time. And he said, “How are you going and how did this happen?” And I said, “Well, I’ve decided I don’t
like the air force, I’m not going back any more.” And he said, “You’re not in the land army now, you know.” Because he knew I had to go back. I fought it for a while but I went back anyway. I knew that I had too, but that’s just how I felt. I just felt that she was unreasonable. And they weren’t usually, but now and again you’d find one that stuck to everything like that you know. And that made you feel a bit dissatisfied at times. It was mostly the WAAAF officers.
The men officers… Well, we had WOs [Warrant Officers] that were funny. They were a bit rude and we had lots of complaints about the one we had there. He used to put the girls at the end of the flight so he could march behind us and pinch us on the bottom. So we said something to our flight sergeant and he said, “Well I’ll talk to him.” And then he said, “No, report him to the engineering officer.”
He was nice, the engineering officer. We used to call him Daddy Nan, and we just went before him and told him what had happened and he said, “You just don’t think about it anymore, I’ll deal with that.” Anyway, he was sent to another section. He was told to stop and sent to another section. So this is the thing that we’ve noticed in peacetime. They reckon that girls are getting mistreated in the services, and I feel… I don’t know,
I feel in the generation now, the boys don’t seem to have respect for the girls like they used too. I don’t know if that’s with everybody or not. But if we had problems… We had another fellow who used to kind of always say silly things and always… “These women can’t do this,” and so forth. And one of the girls bought a cheap bottle of perfume and we were all around one day and he was giving forth,
and she bumped against him and spilt the perfume all over him. We didn’t have any trouble with him anymore. He had to go around all day with this strong perfume on. So the boys didn’t do any work. They all ragged him about it. We didn’t have any trouble with him anymore. But on the whole everything kind of went along quite smoothly. You worked hard and that was it.