Archive number: 41
Preferred name: Ba Ba
Date interviewed: 28 April, 2003
You are listening to the interview audio
There's no need to clap them these days.
Oh what a pity.
'Cause the sound’s on the tape as well so we don't have to worry about that.
Okay Peggy. Can we
start perhaps if you just tell us a bit about your your early life when and where you were born and
Yes I was born in Chatswood, New South Wales. I was one of a pair of twins. My father had been at the war. I think I had an elder sister. She was born while he was away but my twin and I were born at (UNCLEAR) Hospital in Victoria Avenue near Chatswood. We were both rather small but we had a house at Willoughby.
My father and mother had been living in Chatswood but my father couldn't walk up the hill from it was you know a very hilly place there that's why they chose Willoughby I suppose but it was nice and flat in the new house.
And what did your father do for a living?
He was an accountant at the Health Department and actually he came from England in the first place.
When did he….?
I don't really know much about him because as I say I was only two when he
And how did he die?
Well he was gassed twice in France, he was gassed, it killed him really.
And your mother was she….?
My mother yes she was a country girl. She came from Wellington and she was a nurse and that's where she met my father I suppose at the Health Department.
Was your mother nursing in the First World War?
No she wasn't nursing no. I mean she was nursing but
not an army nurse. She married my father in I think my sister was born in about 1916, '15 something like that but I don't know her either because both my sisters died at very early in life.
What did your sister die from?
Well my twin sister died from diphtheria when she was thirteen months old. As a matter of fact on Anzac Day it would have been eighty two years since she died, I don't know her of course and my elder sister, Sheila, would have, she had
scarlet fever and a mastoid so I mean there are treatment for all these things today and they were smartly followed up by my father and they were all gone before I was three.
And whereabouts did you go to school?
Willoughby. I started school at St Gabriels Church of England Girls School at Waverley actually. We must have gone to live at Waverley for awhile. I think my mother couldn't get out of the house at Willoughby quickly enough with everybody sort of going and I started there
and then I went to Waverley School and then we moved back to Willoughby to the to the house because whoever had bought it had sort of gone sort of broke and left owing all this money so we lived there for awhile but I think my mother was still haunted by the fact that you know three people had died while we were living there.
And so they all they would have passed away within a very short….?
Oh yes all within nine months I think
and I went to school at Willoughby no I didn't go to Willoughby School I went to Chatswood, Chatswood Public School and then I went to Willoughby Girls Domestic Science School as it was called then.
Then the repats [Repatriation] sent me off to business college.
Was that something that you wanted to do?
No. I wanted to go nursing. Strange isn't it?
How young were you when you decided you wanted to be a nurse?
Oh quite young.
Yeah. I always did. I wanted to be a nurse or a cooking teacher or a chemist I mean to say it's stupid isn't it? The things you think you'd love to do and you come out doing something altogether different.
So what why do you think it was nursing was it your mother that….?
Probably. She didn't want me to be so that's why I didn't go to do my training so I joined the VAD [Voluntary Aid Detachment] instead.
And when did you join the VAD?
Oh in 1938
yeah, when I was eighteen.
And how long had you been in the previous job?
Oh I'd left in the War Service Homes Commission. I worked there until I joined the army. Actually I applied for leave and they wouldn't give it to me so I just wrote a letter of resignation and left.
What sort of work was the War Service Homes Commission?
Oh well I was I was a legal secretary, I did typing,
shorthand, it was ladies mostly because in those days we had soldiers from World War I.
So you had contact with World War I Veterans?
Oh yes well all the gentlemen working there were all World War I veterans.
Did they ever talk about their war experience?
Oh yes but they only told you funny things yeah, they didn't talk about terrible things.
And at that time was there much awareness in Australia
about the situation in Europe?
Oh well they were talking about we had a lot of refugees came out to Jewish people who came out because they could see that Hitler was sort of going to be doing something horrible. Yes I don't know I think it was quite a shock when it really happened.
You did you so you didn't have a feeling that that war was coming
for a couple of years or…?
Oh possibly, possibly. I think I don't think England entered the war until 1939 but I think they were sort of ready for things before that.
When you joined the VAD what was your ambition there?
I just went to hospital and did hospital training and all that sort of thing and I thought, "When I'm twenty one I'm going to do my nursing training." but of course I was in the army by the time
I was twenty one.
Was that a bit of a surprise? In the army?
Oh no no. I'd been doing plenty of you know we had to do so many hours hospital training when we were VADs. I used to go to PA [Royal Prince Alfred Hospital] and then [Royal] North Shore [Hospital.
Whereabouts were you when war broke out?
I was with friends. I'd gone out to tea with my friend and we'd gone to her aunt's and they had the wireless [radio]
on and Mr Menzies [Australian Prime Minster] announced that we were now at war. That was a bit of a shock. I was nineteen then but no it was didn't seem quite possible that this was happening.
So you were having dinner and the radio was on.
And do you remember what the reaction of that was that night?
Well when you're nineteen you don't really have a terribly you know you just
think, "Isn't that terrible?" but you don't sort of think about it as badly as you do later on in life when you realise what war is like.
Did you have an idea then how much it would affect Australia?
No. No. But everybody was going away from here. When they enlisted they went overseas. I remember this dear old drunk at Wynyard Station. He was all over the place and saying, "When are you going away?"
"When are you going away?" All he'd ever say is, "When are you going away?" and I'd only been in the army two days. So there we are.
So the people were generally keen to go overseas?
Oh yes enlist. They used to have a big place down in Martin Place. I worked in the Commonwealth Bank building at that stage and they had a big they used to bring out bands and people'd rush to enlist.
And what work were you doing in the Commonwealth Bank building. Was that VAD?
No no. I was there working for the War Service Homes Commission.
Oh in 193….?
They didn't take anyone in until 1941.
So you were working you were working for the War Service Homes Commission while you were in the VAD?
Oh yes. Yes. That was weekends we went to hospitals and had meetings at night.
How much time did that take up? The VAD?
not a lot I suppose because we had a meeting I think we met every Thursday night or every Wednesday night down at the Dual Hall at North Sydney and then went to do hospital things on weekends.
Did you enjoy the work?
Oh yes I did otherwise I would have left. Wouldn't have gone on with it.
So it was it was a social outlet for you as well. You had friends.
Yes but I did meet other friends there as well but I also had other friends from when I was a girl, you know, girl guides and all that sort of thing. I sound as if all I ever did was doing something don't I?
So what were you doing for fun then? What was your relaxation?
Tennis. Tennis. Going to the pictures. We used to take dancing lessons. My a friend of mine's brother used to take us down to Crows Nest, what was his name Professor Leary I think.
We were all dancing around. Dancing was marvellous.
Your friends were they from work or school or….?
Oh some from school. A couple from work. A couple from work have died in the last few years I've known all those years but my very first friend that I started school with well I knew her before we started school and we're still friends. She's the same age as I am. Still alive.
so how long were you thinking about enlisting?
Oh I wanted to get in as quickly as possible but they wouldn't let me get in until I was twenty one. Had to be twenty one in those days.
And tell me a bit about the day that you enlisted.
Oh well I marched into Concord Hospital with two other girls, with a suitcase, hat on and they said "Quickly, put on your veil. You've got to go and have your photo taken." Dragged the veil on my head and I was going to be working in pathology
so they took me down there. Dragged doesn't seem to be quite the word does it and I was photographed holding test tubes and all that sort of thing.
Where they expecting you?
So you had signed up somewhere else before you showed up to hospital?
Oh I must have. I suppose I did. My name was down and I'd been for medical exams and all that sort of thing.
But it was at
Victoria Barracks or somewhere like that?
No, we used to go to Macquarie Street and see a doctor there. At this stage we were just enlisting ,I can't really remember. I must tell you that I can't really remember that.
Oh that's okay.
But I remember marching in you know with these two others and we had a room there, lovely room in one of the blocks and I went 'round and helped open up this
new pathology. It was quite a shock to me when I opened one of the fridges and found a leg in it with its toe tied up then after that you get used to finding a set of brains in a bucket or a great big kidney or it becomes a way of life.
So what new skills were you taught when you enlisted and went to the hospital?
Well I learnt a lot in pathology because
I had never worked in with the pathology before.
So what were you doing what was the work like in the VAD?
Oh that was marvellous yeah. A lot of them were nursing orderlies, some of them worked in the office. Couple of them worked on the switch and someone was the CO’s [Commanding Officer’s] secretary.
What were the kind of duties that you were doing as a as a VAD?
Well I was doing all sorts of things in the pathology
because I used to practice on all my friends for their blood group. Have them down to pathology and take blood and do a bit of a bit of rehearsal on that sort of thing.
They were when you went to Concord when you enlisted what sort of training were you given to pick up new skills?
Oh well as I say straight into the pathology
and then I got my X number and we were all kitted out to go to the Middle East and Japan came into the war and we didn't go then.
Why was that?
Because they didn't know what to do with us. They didn't quite know what was happening because you know a lot of prisoners were being taken in Malaya. It was a really dodgy time then so I was sent down to Goulburn with a few other people.
We opened a hospital up down there. The happiest time of my life was when 'cause I was a nursing orderly down there was when they someone rang me to say, "Well you're going onto the hospital ship in a couple of days. Come back up to Sydney and put up your colour patches." and I could hardly believe it and I'd been at home for a couple of days you know on leave and my sister-in-law rang up, she wasn't my sister-in-law then, and said. "I'm going too." so the two of us went on together
which was wonderful. Onto the ship.
And that was the Oranje?
So were you wanting to go overseas from the day you enlisted?
Oh yes. Yes. As I said you had to be twenty one to be enlisted in the first place and I don't know who they took but I didn't get into the first lot which I was a bit disappointed about
but life is filled with disappointments isn't it?
Yeah definitely so what reasons were they not taking people or was it just….?
Well they picked out various people so I was really glad when it was my turn.
So it was really just a matter of time in other words.
Mm. So we went off in 1942. Sailed out thinking, "Oh I hope I won't be seasick!" but it was such an emotional thing
sailing out through the Heads everybody softly singing The Maori Farewell as a matter of fact and I look at them today they're and all their relatives are down waving them off. I think it would have been much worse having everybody around you crying instead of just going out by yourself with friends of course. With your friends.
So when did you say goodbye to your family?
I said goodbye to my mother after my little bit of final leave,
waved her goodbye 'cause she was very upset that I was going.
And what were you what was going through your mind, did you have any expectations?
Well I never thought of anything happening to me. I never thought of anything at all and I just you don't think about things like that. It's an amazing thing isn't it?
So did you did people on the ship talk about what they might come across?
No oh no.
Not really. They were all so good but of course when we went to Suez [Canal] and collected our first lot, my first lot of wounded, it started about six in the morning they came over on lighters from Suez and all the bed patients came up in a stretcher on a cot lift they called it, this great big thing which lifted the cots
Whereabouts was the ship docked?
And were the wounded waiting for you?
A lot of them from El Alamein. Yes they'd been waiting around. They'd been in trains and things and we gave them great care and consideration I can tell you but we took carrying Imperial troops. We took them down to
Durban. Did a couple of those trips.
Were the wounded on the ship while you were doing transporting as well?
Yes. They were all wounded and sick. As a matter of fact we took some, there were six Polish people. They'd been prisoners of the Russians and they were coming back to be repatriated and they were nursed out on the deck in
what they called swinging cots, but poor things they had no English and they must have been absolutely glad to get away from the Russians I suppose.
Did you have Dutch people on the ship?
Yes we had Dutch people and also New Zealand. So there were three lots of us.
And did you all mingle freely?
Oh yes oh of course we did. I still keep in touch with the New Zealanders. Our last contact with the Dutch was
Nick who died a couple of years, oh last year I think. He actually married an Australian girl and she died and he went over to Europe to live. He died over there but it was really quite sad to see Nick go.
How long were you nursing in Suez?
Oh well we did troops you know down to Durban and so on.
But were you coming back to….?
And the last trip we did we came back to Australia because the government had insisted we come home.
So when did you arrive back?
March 1943. That'd be March 1943 up there in that photograph. And all the people who were going to the Centaur farewell 'cause we did
they did a trip one trip that was okay. We couldn't believe it when we heard that the Centaur had been torpedoed.
You were in Sydney when the Centaur…
Yes I was, we'd just been to do rookie school would you believe? Been in the army for a couple of years and I was taking a lot of new recruits out to Victoria Barracks and I was in Elizabeth Street getting the bus, the tram
back to the barracks to pick them up and the paper boy was singing out ,"Hospital ship torpedoed!" I quickly bought a paper and I couldn't believe it. Terrible thing you think of all the people you'd just been travelling around with and they were gone except for Nell and just a few others.
Was that the first time you'd heard of such a thing happening to a hospital….?
To a hospital ship yes it was.
the rest of 1943, what were you doing?
I had to be brought back to Concord and they wanted us to go.
Okay Peggy. We're back to 1943.
Oh yes. Back to 1943 and we'd just
done our rookie training would you believe and I had to report back to Concord Hospital and then somebody said, "Oh you've got to be brought down to the Women's Hospital. They're just opening that." One of the people down there had seen my name and decided I'd like to work at the Women's Hospital. So I had to pack up and go down there at nine o'clock at night where I scrubbed floors with various people and they opened it oh that's when we went to do our rookie training
after we were there. I could hardly get away quickly enough because my sister-in-law and one of the other girls volunteered to come to the Women's Hospital too but that's when we did our rookie training, after that.
What was rookie training?
We had to go up to Ingleburn and march around the place and scrub floors and clean toilets and oh gosh we'd been doing those things for years. So it was a bit of a lark and go out on route marches but it was an absolute holiday for us.
Was there anything that you hadn't come across before that?
No not there no, but I think the poor things they were trying to put us in hand. We were rather surprised because we were just, we were ourselves and just marched around quite happily but I don't know, my friend Ida and I were kept there after the others went. They were going to send us to…. oh they made us into drill instructors would you believe? I mean I was a nursing orderly and
they were going to send us off to officers' training school and we said we didn't want to, we wanted to join the 2/6th AGH [Australian General Hospital].. We met all these girls from there in the rookie school and that's what happened. We went up to the 2/6th AGH up in the Atherton Tablelands. They'd just come back from the Middle East.
So when did you arrive up in the Atherton Tablelands?
Oh 19, something like July, I just found I was looking in my little photo thing that I keep there and I found
a receipt from the YWCA [Young Women’s Christian Asociation] where we'd spent a night when we came off the train, we'd been on a train for three days, and that was July 1943.
And what sort of work was up there waiting for you?
Oh well I went into the wards. It was fully tented so from there on
we lived in a tent for two or three years.
And were there war wounded up there?
Oh there were wounded. Some of them they brought some back but they were mostly just the 9th Division was up there and people get sick. They were there for all sorts of things and then we were staging or waiting to go away again but it was very pleasant up there. The climate was lovely. It rained
a lot. Everything was always wet.
Did you have your own tent or….?
I shared a tent with two other people and they're up there too.
How big was your tent?
Oh not very big. It had three stretchers in it and a little table. We all had hanging wardrobes and mice and then we moved to another site and we actually had
floorboards which was worse because all the wildlife had congregated underneath the floor floorboards. Terrible horrible. Snakes, snakes got all the spiders. I don't like snakes. I can tolerate spiders but not into snakes.
You must have seen a few snakes in Borneo.
Oh not as many as up in North Queensland. Huge pythons and
leatherheads oh that's a bird. Copperheads. Black and brown snakes. Everywhere 'cause it was all bushy around us. Out in the bush there.
So was it a fairly large camp?
Yes we had a great big hospital. Next door, when I say next door I don't mean next door like this, up the road a bit or over the hill, was another hospital there too. The 2/2nd [AGH] and
a lot of people up there in the Atherton Tablelands.
It's just outside of Cairns.
Yes up the hill.
And how long were you were you there?
We must have been up there for eighteen months, two years I think. You know you think you're never going to get away.
You were keen to get back overseas?
Oh yes we all were.
You had 9th Division there. Were they from El Alamein?
Yes. Actually the patients we had on the hospital ship, the Imperial patients you know, Canadians, British, Scottish, Irish, South Africans, they were a lot of those were from El Alamein. Wounded from there.
Were there any soldiers that you remembered from the Middle East?
Oh yes. I met I remember quite a few. I was just saying I
remember one in particular a lovely young fellow and his I can even remember his name which was Douglas Berman from South… I think he lived he must have lived in Durban and he said, "When we get to Durban nurse, I'm going to take you to the Bar Escape." I said to Mary,"What on earth's the Bar Escape?" but of course the poor thing couldn't go anywhere, he was a bed patient, and they went up to Pietermaritzburg [South Africa].
When you were when you were in the Atherton Tablelands there, did you come across soldiers that you had
I came across old friends that I used to work with.
No, fellows from the office.
Who joined the army.
They came to see me, mm.
And did you did you have to apply to go overseas or was the whole unit waiting to….?
No the whole unit was going and when you're in a unit like that where they go you go .
And when did word come in?
Well we were packed
up there from Christm… just after Christmas '44. A lot of our things went off. I sent my gramophone off and it sat in water for some time so it was never the same again. But it's very terrible staging and the men went and we were left there waiting to go. It was such a relief to pack up and go.
And how did you get there?
Train from Rocky Creek. I suppose we must have gone in a truck or two, we went everywhere in a truck or two. Train down to Cairns and into the ship there.
We're in Cairns yes and there was the ship and I think while we were in Cairns we must have had a day off because they took us on a boat trip would you believe to some island. Half the people were seasick so you feel very, you feel very
superior when you know you won't be seasick.
Was that Green Island?
Oh I went there another time. I went down to a rest camp at Green Island. Not to Green Island, I went down to Cairns. As a matter of fact I think we were the rest camp was around at Trinity Beach but somebody took us over to Green Island. It was a lovely place then it was just a few little huts and things.
And what was the boat like that was taking you to….?
that was that was the Wanganella I think. It was either the Wanganella or the Manunda we always travelled on a hospital ship and we went to Morotai and we stayed at Morotai for awhile until it was safe for us to go over and then a hospital ship took us up to Borneo.
And you came in at Labuan Island?
what did you see when you arrived?
Not much. There was just, the place was just a wreck it had been the battle was only just over, I mean we never go anywhere where there's a battle, so most of the buildings were demolished and half the trees were just half of them there and the natives had gone over to Rancha Rancha, a little island while the battles were on but of course it was pretty horrible, pretty horrible
Was that the first time you'd seen a battlefield?
Well we, I think that my husband was more or less on a battlefield anyway, I mean all sorts of odd things kept popping up but….
Was it built when you arrived?
Oh it was fully tented. We had an eighteen hundred bed fully tented hospital there.
Just amidst the chaos.
Well when they do a camp they do it properly, it's all…. I used to go out looking for, I was working in the blood bank there
I'd go out for looking for Ward… I went out one night looking for Ward 20 and all 'round the place we had these great big trenches dug I don't know whether it was for the water or for something else but I thought. "Heavens I'm about to fall in." so a little torch you know you went around and we had electric lighting in Borneo which we didn't have at the Tablelands but it was very, very faint but looking for wards you go from ward to ward to find Ward 20 and the next night you'd go out and it'd be Ward 40 you know, Ward 20 was the last one
up but they just kept putting up more wards because we had all sorts of patients there. There was prisoner of war people, poor things.
Were you treating prisoners of war?
Oh yes, yes we were. We even had a few in the blood bank at one stage well but as I say with eighteen hundred beds it's a big hospital.
They were the Japanese prisoners obviously.
We had a few Japanese there. There were still Japanese on the island.
They were still on Labuan.
So would you have heard any fighting going on?
Oh no we didn't ever go anywhere where there was fighting.
So they were there but they what were they doing?
Well I think they'd been taken prisoner of war themselves.
Oh I see.
A reversal of the situation.
So they would bring in wounded POWs [prisoners of war] into the hospital?
we were getting the POWs from… they were just being released I know I was in the blood bank we'd just sort of opening up and a fellow came rushing in dying to tell somebody that he'd just flown over Qiting [probably Kuching] and he said, "I'm sure I saw Australians." 'cause nobody knew where anybody was. He was so excited. So were we.
And what how was that followed up?
Well they declared the war over.
That was in September I mean they put the bombs went off in August but they declared it over so any Japanese that were on the island were then taken prisoner of war themselves and all the others keep you know, the ones that were released from some of these terrible camps they'd been in like Jesselton and Qiting [Kuching] everywhere around the place. They'd been there for years poor things. Walking
skeletons. Women and children. Dutch nuns. All sorts of people.
And they all were they taken into the hospital on Labuan?
Well they were taken into the hospital if they were sick otherwise there were a civilian sort of camp there. There were even German families with children. The boys of the 2/3rd Machine Gun I think it was battalion made a milk bar up for them for the kiddies
of course powdered milk.
How did the German children get there?
Well when the war was over in Europe the Japanese took in the Germans were then their enemies. They took them in as prisoners. I can't understand it myself but I don't have to.
No. You were on Labuan when VE [Victory in Europe] Day happened?
How did you hear about that?
How did I hear about that?
Well somebody must have told us. There was a lot of cheering but I was down in the cemetery. I know this sounds strange, with a fellow. We were just sort of sitting looking over the…. and people were firing off all these loud things ,I thought, "Heavens I'll never get home." you know, "I'll get shot dead here." Fairy lights shooting off everything they could do. Everyone was so excited the war was over.
Did you know what the firing was at first?
Oh well you had a pretty good idea. They'd all gone mad.
We might just we're just about out of tape so we might just
It’s a good note to end that tape on I think.
Interviewee: Peggy Mason Archive ID 0041 Tape 02
Okay we're rolling now. Okay Peggy we were at the VE Day on Labuan.
Oh that's right yes and of course as I said after that all the prisoners kept coming in and that's why we had such a huge hospital, eighteen hundred beds except for the radiology department.
There was a bit of Government House left so they had the radiology there but the rest was absolutely tented. The theatre was a huge tent and it was like mosquito netting and they could let the sides down, I mean we were very hot there, and everybody used to get around and have a little peer through the net to see what was going on.
Okay the theatre that you were talking about so….
Oh the operating theatre, yes.
So people would peek in and watch operations?
Oh they would because it was mosquito net because it was so hot there they let the sides down, the canvas down and it was mosquito netting right 'round. Big, big theatre.
And were they continuing to expand the hospital through…
Oh as long as patients kept coming in from all over place, all these POWs
had been released having been in Japanese camps all this time, three years or so. '42, '41, '42 probably. Three years probably. As I said walking skeletons coming in. Large tummies.
So were you were treating a lot of them after the….?
Oh a lot of them were very sick.
And so how long were you on Labuan?
About six months.
So you were there for some time after the Japanese surrender?
Yeah. Lord Louis Mountbatten came to see us. Poor dear gentleman's dead now and we were all lined up with military precision and he got an old fruit box or some sort of box and stood on it and made everybody you know come all
'round him and he was an absolute treat and they had to tell us why we were still staying there after the war was ended. They had a beach girl parade, I wasn't in it, and Sister Crittenden won it, she had long bloomer things on and a little umbrella, little bathing cap. She looked great. As a matter of fact Sister Crittenden was on one of these
archive things a few years back.
That's an interesting story. We we'll get back to that one I think.
Yes I go from I go from one to the other.
And you tell me about victory over Japan?
Oh that was you know everybody cheered when they dropped the bombs. Thought, "Oh thank goodness." you know it could have gone on for years otherwise. Isn't it a terrible thing to cheer
because people were dying from that bomb but they were so cruel. I mean I just think of all the people who went away and all their relatives and their wives and children and how they must have suffered all those years when they were didn't even hear from them. Didn't know whether they were alive or not so we didn't really care about the bomb. My daughter says, "Oh well, never again mum." and I said, "Well you know at the time it was
a very good thing." Sounds very cruel I know but…..
How did you hear about the bomb?
Well I don't know actually how we heard but the word went 'round. It's amazing how you hear these things especially when you don't have any wirelesses but the word came through from somewhere or other, when I say somewhere or other that's what I mean. Somewhere or other, I don't really know.
There wasn't an official announcement?
quite possibly but I can't remember. Truly. I just know that they said the bomb had been dropped and it was on the 15th of August I think.
And what were you doing at the on that day? Do you remember that day?
No. Can't tell you. Don't know. I don't.
That's okay. And how long afterwards were you on the island?
Oh we were there 'til December.
Came home just about in time for New Year.
Were you homesick by that stage?
No. Oh well in a way I mean you think how lovely it would be to have some decent food. How nice it would be to sleep in a bed 'cause we'd been sleeping in a stretcher for years so it didn't really, that was no thing. There was all the wildlife
and the rats and the snakes and a few snakes there, not too many. My tent mate, Gwynne, was asleep one morning and we looked over the three of us you know in the tent and we said, "Gwynne don't get out of bed there's a snake under your bed." This great big thing and it had swallowed a rat probably, it was all swollen up. Fortunately it walked out because none of us were going to get up but that was the only snake I saw there.
And when you were after the surrender so you were there for a good four months afterwards weren't you?
Were you keen to get back to Australia from that point?
Oh yes you are really yeah. You can hardly wait to go home. When you get home the house seems so small and you're so used to all this fresh air. You run 'round opening everything up and they run around closing it all up but it was great.
Did you all leave together?
Oh no they sent home…. early engagements went home first and we went home last.
Was that a long wait in between ships?
No. Not really. No.
And tell me about what did it feel like coming back through the Heads?
Oh it was pretty good. We were all up having a look yeah. We all got up and had a look at lots of things.
Very pretty coming through I can't remember the name of the island, somewhere up around New Guinea there and we came and little palm trees hanging over the side of the lagoon I suppose and I think Robert Louis Stevenson used to write there and another island with a big, big black cloud over it from a volcano
a big mountain, but to come home to Sydney yes, it was just really something and then they loaded us onto would you believe onto buses? My mother and a few friends were down to greet us and I didn't see them. They took us for a trip around the city. We nearly all died laughing it sounds so stupid doesn't it? Just it was so ridiculous.
Did ….what did they do on this trip?
The trip 'round the city and they just drove us 'round the city then drove us to somewhere we had to go because
we'd just come back to Burwood, some place to be then we were sent home on leave. Had to go back to be demobbed [demobilised] I think we got out about January or February
Before we were actually…
So when did you first see your family then?
Oh when I finally got home. Got a taxi with somebody who lived at Crows Nest and we got a taxi home.
That was later that day?
Yes and they said they'd been down at the
Was that was that a mistake or….
Oh I've got no idea. You never know what happens in the army, who'd know?
And what was it like seeing your mum again?
Oh it was wonderful yes. She been upset when I'd been away.
And did you write letters?
I wrote once a week. My stepfather gave me a great lecture why didn't I write more often but you know everything's
has to be looked at and bits taken out of it if you said anything wrong so when you're stuck in a place like the Atherton Tablelands for some time you can just write about people and you're not supposed to, they're not supposed to know where you are and it just becomes very hard to write something that you'd really be proud of and you can't say, “Well we're going here there and somewhere else.” but
she was quite upset when I went away on a hospital ship. My uncles told her that at one stage we'd been sunk off the island of Madagascar 'cause our hospital ship it got out of Singapore as a cruise ship then got out of Singapore just ahead of the Japanese and they also they all said it was going to be they would
well I don't know about sink it but they were going to grab it. It was going to be a prize. So we used to go very fast in some places but no, it was good to be home but it's very funny trying to get back, get some clothes and after nearly five years it's very hard to get back into civilian life.
What did you think you were going to do? Did you want to continue….
Oh I just asked for my old job back
and I got that back but I hated it so then I went to work for a doctor in Macquarie Street.
As a secretary?
So you went back to the War Service Homes Commission?
And then worked for the doctor?
Yeah. Then I got married.
When did you marry?
I would have been married fifty five years last Thursday. Fifty six. Say fifty five.
Perhaps just tell me a bit about your husband John then. When you met him?
Oh John. Well he and Joan and I we were saying we were always meeting up with our friends because you know, it's like a family when you're in the army for that long. When you all separated it was like you've lost all your family again so we always met each all these people, we were all friends. All friends together. John was a bit of a nervous wreck you know. He'd been flying for all those years.
He wasn't a pilot he was a wireless air gunner but it was pretty tricky I think, so he was always a bit of a nervous wreck and…..
Did he talk about his war experiences?
A little bit. Not a great deal. Just a bit.
Did you talk to him about your….
Of course, I don't think Joan and I ever shut up, I think we talked
about it all the time. Probably people avoided us like the plague. 'Cause it takes a long time just to step out and step back into civilian life.
How long did it did you feel out of place like in that way?
Oh probably for quite awhile. Probably for about six months to a year I mean you still feel that you're missing something.
Did you move back in with your
And what was that like living back at home?
Oh well it was alright I suppose. It was alright. I was trying to get some clothes together but she'd given all my clothes away to one of my friends who was married and had three children so all my clothes were gone, all my dolls, my books. I think she thought I was never coming home again.But
for ages we used to meet in town, Gwynne and I anyway, try and find something to wear and there was blackouts on at that stage and they weren't able to, well they weren't making clothes and everywhere you'd go you couldn't buy shoes and you couldn't buy… it was dreadful but finally we were decked out in something besides a uniform.
Did you ever feel the inclination to keep nursing?
Oh yes I was…. then after nearly five years you're just sort of glad to be out of the whole thing. I didn't feel like going into a hospital and doing my nursing training, no. No. Definitely not. Just too late.
But at the same time you didn't really like the going back to the old…
I hated going back to the office yeah. Hated it.
Sitting there typing away, taking dictation and boring.
And so you how long when…. I'm thinking about when you reunited with your friend. You'd already met John before.
And you met up with him again when you came back?
And how long was it before
Oh probably, well I didn't really want to get married. I wanted to go overseas, I wanted to go to England but we did, we got married '47, '46, '47, maybe '48. Isn't it terrible, I can't tell you the right date and anyway I didn't, I eventually got back to England I got to England about ten years twelve years
ago but I wanted to travel but you've go to do something haven't you? I mean you just can't think about travelling. He said he didn't want to go anywhere. Didn't want to fly. A friend of his at Orange swore he'd never fly again after the war.
And what did John do when he came back?
He his father had a furniture business at Redfern, I think it was Redfern
and he worked there' til they closed the business down and then he worked for I can't remember.
And whereabouts were you living?
When you married?
Mm. We lived at Mosman and we bought a house at Cromer out here. We lived there for many years until I stayed there for about five years after John died but you know it needs
so many repairs and I mean I didn't mind mowing the lawn but it was very inconvenient so I moved out here.
And your children, did you speak to them about your war years?
I suppose I drove them silly actually. They probably can't remember anything I ever said. I don't think that's quite right. My daughter in Perth was saying that she finds Anzac Day so emotional that
the bugle plays the Last Post she immediately starts crying but when they were young, they probably got pretty sick of it. I really thought I could bring them up in a sort of military style, clap my hands and they'd all line up for breakfast and all that sort of thing. Doesn't work that way. I think the crying gets you eventually.
Was that the drill instructor training?
No I didn't like
that. I was never a drill instructor really. The whole thing's stupid isn't it? No. But I thought, "Oh out of bed." you know, but children are children.
Okay I think that that's pretty much covered an overview so perhaps we could step back a bit and just go back to your earliest memories perhaps of growing up in Sydney?
Well I can remember living at Waverley for a while. We left there when I was about nine I suppose. We left Willoughby when I was probably four and we went to live in Waverley for a while because my mother had a nursing friend. As I said she was alone just with me, oh that's not quite true because my grandparents came down from Wellington and they lived with us
but my Mum wanted to be near Viv, her friend, so we stayed there until as I said the house had been sold and the fellow who'd bought it decamped without paying so we went back and my mother eventually lost that house back at Willoughby but I can remember Waverley quite well. It was during the Depression. There always seemed to be somebody on the
street corners sprouting about politics which frightened me to death and then we went back to Willoughby and I really grew up there I suppose, but I belonged to the girl guides, isn't it dreadful I was a joiner. Anything to get out and about I suppose with no brothers or sisters.
So you enjoyed the camaraderie?
I did yes. Yeah and then I joined the VADs.
Did you like Viv?
Your mother's friend.
Oh yeah she was great.
And she was a nurse?
She'd been a nurse, yes.
Do you think growing up with your mother and Viv encouraged you to nurse?
Oh no I just think I…. well some people are attracted to some sort of things and I was always attracted to be a nurse but as I said
that's the nearest I got, being a VAD and we turned into AAMWS [Australian Army Medical Women’s Service].
Tell me a bit about the VAD.
We used to meet every I think it was Thursday night down at North Sydney, it was an Italian training hall down there and I can't think of the name of it, 17th Battalion Hall and we met there. We'd have doctors along to give us lectures and we'd do some drills and very nice people.
Did a lot of girls want to join the VAD?
I don't know. I just know all the ones we met are in the army there but we had parades and things sometimes at Victoria Barracks and sometimes Government House. I've got a lovely picture of me carting someone off on a stretcher who'd just fainted.
And the VAD was connected with the Red Cross
Yes it was.
So at that stage were you aim aiming at going overseas?
Oh yes I was aiming at when the war broke out and when they started enlisting yes, so I was
But even in 1938 I mean….
1938. Well there was no war.
But then when you joined the VAD then was that with a view to going….
I just joined because a neighbour asked me if I'd like to go with her so I went. That's how I came to join the VAD.
Those dreadful white uniforms we used to wear before we got blue ones.
Were they uncomfortable?
They were absolutely ugly. Mm. White hat, white stockings I think. Like a bag with a belt around it.
Did you have to buy them yourself?
Yeah. And when we first went into as enlisted VAs we paid quite a…. we did get
an allowance but it really didn't cover quite….
And what was your mother like about you joining up VAD?
Oh I don't think she minded. I don't think she minded. I just think I was a terrible kid anyway. I would have done it whether she'd minded or not.
You were determined to.
I was determined to do that, yeah.
And at that stage you were going to dawn services
Yes. That's before the war,
Did your mother go?
No. We used to go in and watch the Anzac march when I was a little girl.
So who did you go with?
Well I went to the Anzac march with my mother yes but no, she didn't come to the dawn service. I used to go with a friend. We'd go rushing off early in the morning, pitch black, and keep thinking we heard the tram coming 'cause there'd only be one tram that you could go on and Martin Place'd be full of
people even then. It was always a very emotional thing going to the dawn service.
Do you feel it's changed over the years?
It's getting bigger apparently the dawn service. More people go. It's a bit hard to go from here and still go to the march. I'd have to stay in town actually because I'm too old to be doing both.
And what were your feelings about the importance of Anzac
Day back then?
Well my father to me was a hero as I said, I didn't know him and I thought about him all the time. Got out his medals every year and polished them up. I actually took them out this Anzac Day. I wore them as well as my husband's as well as my own so to say I looked a little ostentatious isn't it, but not going too far, but I mean I thought of him all those years and I look at his picture, but I mean I didn't remember him.
That's a lie. I sort of remember once we went in a hansom cab, I think, but as I said I wasn't three, I was only two and a half.
Tell me a bit about what you knew about his war?
Only what my mother told me but what I could never understand was he went to Gallipoli with the 13th Battalion and went to France with the 45th
and I used to wonder why on earth you know, how would he change and I met a fellow from the 2/13th Battalion and he gave me the book about the 13th Battalions and when they left Gallipoli they divided them up into two units. Half of them went with the 13th and half with the 45th and my father was unlucky enough to go with…. when I say unlucky enough I think they were all very upset to leave the 13th
In France, that's where he was wounded?
That's where he was wounded, in Gallipoli. I've got a letter in there saying to my mother saying somebody stole something when he was unconscious on the hospital ship coming back from there but he was gassed twice in France.
And did your mother talk about him a lot to you?
Yes but she
talked about my father a lot yes. She remarried when I was about eleven but she did talk about him a lot but she talked about my sister, Sheila, I think and of course my twin was so young when she died but it was always emotional. I remember we used to go out to the Rookwood [Cemetery] and sit on the on the side of the grave. My father was buried with my twin sister and we went once
and I just remember crying away there and we didn't go again and I've never been. Isn't it terrible? I haven't been to see…. my father had a headstone put on by the Repat [Repatriation] and I've never seen that but I do, it was really terrible going and sitting there I suppose poor Mum she'd just think of all of them dying.
And so your father obviously was a presence in the house
even though he wasn't there?
Yes he was I suppose, yes. Yes. My mother said when he came back from the war my sister used to say, "That's not my father. My father has nether eyes." 'Cause sepia photographs sort of a she called it ‘nether ‘ cause he had blue eyes.
She called it ‘nether’?
Nether. "My father has nether eyes. That's not my father 'cause he had blue eyes."
"He has nether eyes" that was her, she was only a little girl.
And do you have memories of her?
No, I don't know her at all,she died before I was…. oh I was only two I think, she died fairly soon after my twin sister.
And was your stepfather a veteran as well?
What was he like?
Well I hated my mother remarrying. He probably hated me too but
we got to be quite good friends later on but it didn't appeal to me at all having a stepfather.
When did you become friends? Was that later in life?
Oh by the time I got married and had children. They were really good with the children.
And when you were at school and your stepfather was at home were your ambitions to become a
nurse, was he supportive of that?
No I think because my father had died in a way he really didn't support me because, oh he must have to a certain extent but I was still getting a pension because my father had died, I was what they called a war orphan, and I think I got a pension 'til I was about sixteen. My mother received it for me but no.
How did you know how your mother felt about your father's death so soon after the war, was she….
Oh yes she was really upset. I mean as I said she didn't remarry 'til I was about eleven but it must have been a very lonely life for her.
Were you close to her?
Yes but I was a bit wild and woolly. I don't mean I was dying to get out and have company because I didn't like being an only child either.
Did you feel lonely
Sometimes but I read a lot. I could always bury myself in a book or two.
What sort of books did you like?
Oh I used to read everything, you know I'm just trying to think. When I was going to school I used to belong to the library down at Willoughby there and go in about every second day and get another book. I used to get all the adult books and they were a lovely couple that had the library. If they didn't think it was suitable they wouldn't let me take it.
But I read mostly adult books, travel books, just trying to think of my favourite authors, of course you know I'm not going to.
So you were reading travel books you were interested in getting overseas.
I was always interested in travelling.
Did you feel that your father…. do you feel that his his life was sort of taken from him or do you feel that it was a worthy…..
Well I don't even remember you know, I don't remember him
dying of course And I just remember my life seemed to sort off be cut off from them. I remember we went and stayed with my grandparents in Wellington at one stage and I remember being there but I don't remember being in the other house or any of them there.
So you were you were working in the office at the War Services Commission.
Were you dealing…. is
that is that to do with housing veterans?
Yes. First World War then and I went back for awhile after the war and they were doing everybody but that's no longer going. I think they passed it over to the Bank of New South Wales I think. Mightn't be quite true.
And what would what were your day-to-day duties there? Just tell me.
Oh well when I went to work there Mr
Whitewood I think his name was. had me come and take some dictation and from then on I went every morning into the legal part and took about two hours' dictation and went back and typed up all these letters and all these documents and all that sort of thing.
That went on for a few years?
Yeah well I was sixteen when I went there and twenty one when I left so I had five years there then I went back for awhile after the war. Couldn't
Were people talking about Hitler in those late '30s in Australia?
Oh they must have been yes because we had these Jewish refugees came out at some stage because Hitler…. they could see what you know. things weren't going to be too.
And how important was the sense of Empire to you?
Oh well we were very, very staunch people for that sort of thing.
We just were so…. I can't think of the word. we were so loyal to our country and to Britain too. As I said my father was born in, well on his papers it says he was born in Latvia.
And when did he come to Australia?
Oh he came from Britain. His father was, this is what I'm told, his father was a
captain on a boat. His mother was French. I don't know. This sounds so stupid to me but this is what I was told and there on his discharge thing or at least on the enlistment thing that my son had got from the department down in Canberra it says 'Born in Latvia. Riga.' Mm. But he wasn't Latvian.
So were the feelings of
loyalty, were they strong personal feelings for you?
Oh yes. We all loved our country and loved Britain because lots of people, most people had relatives living there as I said like my father came out from Britain. I found his ticket, ship ticket. I've got the most amazing lot of things that my mother left behind. They're all in an old case. Sometimes I look for some photographs and there it is, a travel ad from
Britain on the ….can't remember the name of the ship off hand but it was a long time ago.
And you were at that time you told me a bit about when war was declared. At that time was there a feeling that Australia was in danger?
Yes well they I just remember Mr Menzies saying now, "Britain is at war and that means we're now at war."
I suppose so but you know but when you were young and stupid you don't think of anything like that. That's why so many people join up and go when they're young.
So when you heard that announcement did…. is that moment you thought you wanted to enlist?
Oh we were hoping they'd take VADs in and I just happened to be the right age at the right time because they took them in '41. They used to go to hospitals before that
as day girls especially if they weren't working, they'd probably go every day and just work in the wards.
What did you imagine what going overseas to war would it be like?
Oh I thought it would be….. I just couldn't wait to go. I thought it was going to be, see things you know, that we've never seen before and as I said I didn't think of anything ever happening to me.
No it was just the very thing that we wanted to do. Everybody wanted to go. Of course not all of them did.
Did you talk about it a lot with your friends?
Yes, especially the ones that were on the same group that I was mm.
And when you were working in your office were men leaving the office enlisting?
Well they were nearly all, there were a couple of
young ones that went but most of them were old First World War fellows. Yes, Angus and Jack and Ray oh a couple of others that I can't remember their names. Isn't it awful but they enlisted yes, they enlisted probably in probably '40, mm, or '39 even. Went down to see them off.
Out in the road you know, having marched through the city.
So you had quite a few friends at work really who were from the First War?
Oh yes you know but they were you know, older gentlemen, they were a bit old for my, I thought they were all old fuddy duddies and now I'm the fuddy duddy.
Okay well I might just we might just have a break there and change our tape
Right. Good. I'm sorry, I hope I'm not boring you to tears.
No I'm finding this fascinating to tell you the truth.
Interviewee: Peggy Mason Archive ID 0041 Tape 03
Peggy, I'm interested in the VAD in the sort of skills that you were taught when you when you went into the VAD?
What do you mean? When I was enlisted and went to the….
No when you were still working in the….
Oh yes when I was still working in the office and we used to go to these meetings at the drill hall and we had drill and we had doctors lecturing
and we also went to lectures on feeding a thousand people and all that sort of thing and we did invalid cookery at North Shore Gas Company and as I say days at the hospital anyway. Go out to PA [Prince Alfred Hospital], which was a really old hospital in those days.
Then we could go to North Shore.
Did you feel you were after the war broke out and you were still doing the VAD, did you think those skills were useful for you your ambitions?
Oh yes. I did a week of my holidays once at North Shore. You know holidays from work so I went every day instead of just once a week and they were so nice, they really were.
Mm. They didn't treat us with scorn. That's what I found in the
army. Most of them were absolutely terrific. All gorgeous people on the hospital ship. Lovely sisters.
Tell me about some of your friends then on the ship.
Oh well my friend Gwen, yes we had lunch at the other day and we went and had not only lunch at Sydney hospital but lunch at the Royal Automobile Club. She's she worked in England for many years.
Did you meet her in VAD?
Yes in the army.
In the army?
Yes not before I was enlisted and we were in a cabin together on the hospital ship.
And when you were wanting to enlist, what was your mother's reaction?
I don't really think she was terribly keen but I was going to do it anyway whether she wanted me to or not.
Did you did you talk about it to her?
I don't know, isn't that awful? My mother and stepfather they were mad golfers and they were also mad gardeners so they were always busy doing something. That's why I was doing my own thing.
Did you like golf?
I took up a bit of golf at one stage. Before the war I had my own little golf club and I used to go out in the backyard bashing balls around but then I used to go out with three friends here
and we used to go and play at Long Reef. I was never terribly good but it was great fun bashing balls around the golf course.
Did your did your stepfather approve of your desire to join the army?
Did he say anything to you outright?
No probably wasn't game.
Did you did you fight with him a lot?
No I didn't fight with him but I don't think…. we
didn't get on terribly well I suppose but.
But what was his manner like as a….
Oh the kids, my children liked him. Loved him. They thought he was great. When I had children they were both absolutely terrific but I was a bit of a, you know I could have been better probably but.
Did he feel that you
were doing the right thing by enlisting?
I suppose so. I know I was doing the right thing and that's all that mattered to me was that I was doing the right thing.
So you'd made your mind up
And so tell me about the day, not the day you arrived at the hospital but when you actually applied.
Oh they I knew I was going, oh I applied for some time before that.
And how did you apply?
I probably filled out a form I suppose.
I can't really remember that but I just know that I came home from the office on Friday night and there was this letter telling me to report to Concord Hospital. The 113th Hospital I beg your pardon, on Monday. So I'd applied for leave and they turned it down. Said I was the first woman in the public service to go into any of these things and after me I think everybody had their pay made up and kept their job afterwards
but not me, I just packed my bags, wrote a letter, put it in the letter box and went off to Concord on Monday morning.
Did you ask your boss for the leave?
I had to apply you know. Write a letter to the Deputy Commissioner.
And what were their reasons for knocking you back?
I've got absolutely no idea. I can't remember.
They didn't explain.
They didn't grant me leave.
Did your mother know what the letter
was waiting for you?
No she hadn't opened it of course. It was mine.
But she could see?
But I think they posted…. probably both absolutely shocked when I sat down and wrote a wrote a letter saying that I wouldn't be back. That was it.
When did you write that letter?
Well I wrote that over the weekend. It was Friday night. I went in on the 30th of June 1941, so it would have been, the letter probably came on the
27th and I probably wrote my letter on the 28th and posted it so they didn't see me again. Well that's not true, they took up a collection and bought me a beautiful rug. I had to go in and collect that.
Did they did they have a little farewell did they?
Was the office aware that you were
the first woman from the public service to….
I don't know. Somebody from one of the papers came out and took my photo and put this rubbish in the paper about it but it didn't make any difference and I didn't care anyway.
Have you got the clipping?
I've got a photo that they put in the paper. I'll get it for you later.
Yeah that'll be that'll be interesting. So did you think your mother, I mean obviously your father's story, do you think she was trying to
Well I was the only one left out of the family so everybody else had died. And I was always known as the poor little weak delicate child.
But you obviously didn't think of yourself as delicate.
So did you feel that you mother misunderstood your character in that way?
Oh no but I mean she, let's face it she was remarried. She was married to my stepfather and that changes life altogether.
How did it change?
Well my mother probably just looked after me and as I said my grandparents lived with us for a few years until Mum was married actually again.
What was their attitude to your enlistment?
Well they were old. Well I don't think I don't know. My grandmother was still thinking about some of her sons actually. They are my mother's brother's I think oh about four of them. She had ten brothers and sisters
and I think one of them was killed in World War I and another three or four but I think my grandmother was always wanting to see some of her sons. My mother looked after her for years. Even when she was in a nursing home mother took her lunch up every day and visited her every day but she still wanted the boys to come and see her.
Isn't that funny?
Did you feel that you were proving yourself in some way by going and doing….
No I just wanted to do it. I was I was actually pretty proud of myself that I had done it because I I've never regretted doing it. Never.
And how long after you wrote that letter was… it told
you to report and you applied for leave what happened on Monday morning?
Well I applied for leave before I was…
Oh you had applied.
I'd already applied for leave because I was waiting to get the letter.
OK so had they knocked you back before you got the letter?
Well no they didn't knock it oh wait a minute. I must have applied for leave when I knew I was going to be going in.
I was just wondering when….
Yeah I think I'd already applied and they said it wasn't granted.
So did you go back to work on Monday morning?
No I didn't go back to work. I went to the 113th Australian General Hospital.
So tell me about that day.
Well there was this photo of us walking in, the three of us, great big suitcases, and in uniform and had to report to oh gosh, I can't remember who you reported, to isn't that amazing?
But they said "Quickly get your veil on we're going to take your photo." So down to the path I go and have my photo taken holding test tubes, looking down microscopes, all this sort of thing.
What were the photos for?
I don't know. I think they might have been for the some papers.
Oh I'm not quite sure about that.
And who were your friends?
This is sixty-odd years ago.
I know it's a long time ago. Who were your friends that you went with?
I didn't go with a friend.
The two other people that reported with you.
Oh I hadn't met them before.
'Cause they came from all over Australia, all over New South Wales, or all over Sydney, but….
What did you pack?
Well I had I suppose my underwear and my nightgown and my toothbrush, because I only had a couple of uniforms then. I had to quickly go into Farmers [department store]. All our uniforms were made at Farmers.
Quickly go in there and get another four or five uniforms and a suit, an outdoor suit, I had already had a greatcoat.
Did you have to buy them yourself?
Yes, but we did get a bit of an allowance from the Red Cross I suppose.
The uniforms that you got at the hospital, Concord, were they better than the VAD ones?
No they were the same ones. Same things.
Oh it was the same.
That we had made at Farmers. Farmers isn't there anymore.
Okay. Now at the hospital, you started work the next day?
Yes. I actually started work almost you might say straight away.
And what did they have you doing?
Well they'd just opened the path. It was a new building so we were busily putting away all sorts of things they use for tests and getting everything together in the path.
And were you trained straight away?
I was being trained, you know straight away, but doing all the typing as well. Did all the tests cards. We had a three card system and I worked for a, this perfectly charming Major Yids[?]. Perfectly charming gentleman and he was great.
And so you felt very happy that you'd arrived.
Yes I was.
Yes I was definitely.
And what were your living quarters like?
Well we were living in the…. but there were little rooms you know like wings on a sort of central place with three lots of huts, but they were all in rooms so I had I think, I had a room to myself for awhile and as more people coming in as enlisted VAs
I shared with somebody and my roommate, Maude, Maude, I said to her one morning, "You look terrible. You're all covered in a rash." and she said, "Oh I've got to get up and go and look after the boys." and I said, "You've got measles. Stay where you are." So I got sister and sister came along and off went Maude and she had scarlet fever. So the room was blocked off and to do
whatever they do with it and I'm there 'cause I was staying in the hospital for the weekend and I'm there with no clothes except what I was wearing because I couldn't get into the room to get anything.
Did they help you out with other uniforms?
Well they sent me off to have my throat swabbed but it was alright thank goodness.
Were there any other cases?
No but there were when we went down to Goulburn.
See today scarlet fever's a as one doctor says, "It's a rash, a sore throat with a tonsillitis, with a rash." but they can give you antibiotics and everything's okay.
So your daily duties in the lab were…. you just tell me about what you used to do.
Well I used to do some things. I used to do all the
tests for ulcers. Having six patients sitting around looking at you rather ominously wondering what was going to happen and had them all swallow a tube, which tucked into a little belt. Had an Italian POW [prisoner of war], poor thing, and he was so nervous. He cried the whole time. He was an officer but from over at the POW ward and they'd swallow that and then you'd spend
every half an hour you'd take some of the their through a syringe and then you'd give them porridge and then every half an hour you'd go over and test to see you had all these little things around the place. Each one had his own thing.
What were you testing for?
Ulcers inside. Stomach ulcers.
Were these the first
No, the only one that was returned poor thing, was this POW.
Was he the only one?
There were a lot of people, poor things returning. There was a fellow there quite blind. Everybody loved him of course. He was a bit of a scoundrel too. Yeah there were lots of them but they came from the camps. I mean people get sick.
Tell me about the scoundrel. What was he like?
I can't remember
his name. My sister-in-law would be able to tell me and my friend who was here yesterday I was telling him about another of the VAs who used to take him out and he couldn't see of course and she'd be saying, run on ahead and say, "Come on, come on." and he'd fall in the gutter and she'd laugh her head off. Isn't it awful? I shouldn't be telling you these things. Sounds absolutely horrible.
Did he enjoy his excursions?
I think so but probably when he was discharged it was probably a bit of a blow because
you've lost touch with all your friends you'd know.
So was there was a good sense of camaraderie in the hospital?
Oh yes, well amongst the patients who came in from their units.
How did they feel about being back in Australia?
Oh some of them hated it. I remember one of the sisters who'd been sent back from the Middle East and she was just dying to go back and of course she had a really bad kidney complaint but all she wanted to do was go back to the
Middle East. Go back to her unit.
So when you when you were working at Concord was that the mood of the hospital. That the nurses wanted to be overseas?
Well a lot of them did because there were people who wanted to go and there were people who were quite happy where they are but yes, I wanted to go. Some one of my friends went on the first lot of course that went over. As I said we all lined up in November.
All kitted out. Cabin trunks. We didn't travel lightly in those days, we had so much luggage. I've never seen anything like it.
What were you packing for overseas? What was in the luggage?
Well it'd be enough of everything to last you six months. All your uniforms, oh crumbs, then we also had a holdall [a capacious bag] for your bedding. There was a little thin, not a mattress
exactly, little thin over to put on the stretcher and sheets and anything else that'd fit in there. When I came home from Borneo I had sheets, Sister Steen gave me some sheets. I'm getting away from how we kitted up and there, as well as that we had a suitcase but then as things advanced we also got a kit bag and I remember coming down on leave once
from the Tablelands and I'm trying to carry the thing home you know and I'm dragging it along the road. This fellow came up beside me with a painful look on his face took it right to the gate and said, "Goodbye." Had a hole in the bottom of the kit bag but we had far too much. When we went to Borneo we just took a kit bag, a holdall for bedding and little suitcase.
So you learned from the first experience?
Oh there was far too much and when
Ida and I went up to the Tablelands, we travelled up together on a troop train, and had the most terrible time trying to take these wretched trunks with us.
What other sort of wounds were you treating at Concord?
Oh there'd be everything. Being back from the Middle East. I really can't tell you. I can't remember. I really can't remember. But on
the hospital ship for instance a lot of them had gunshot wounds and fractures as well and they used to nurse those in plaster and when they first came on board the captain of the ship said he didn't like the smell. He thought it was dreadful but they took off all their old plasters and put on new ones. They were terrible, they really stunk. You could smell them all through the ship.
Was that a constant feature of shipboard?
Yes, yeah. That's right.
What was that smell like?
Well if the ship was shut up terrible. We had punka louvres [ventilation shafts] on board and he had some, Captain Potcher had some, not perfume but sort of some something put through the punka louvres to make it smell better. When the ship
was, it was blacked out at night of course, except for the red cross on the side, so when it was shut up like a clam you could certainly smell it. I know you get used to it, but you get used to anything.
Was that every night?
So the smell was all over the ship, there was no way of getting away.
Oh, out on the deck it was okay.
Okay. Well we'll go onto the ship then and tell me about….
I'm sorry. I'm going from place
Oh not that's fine. There's no worries about that at all. Just perhaps tell me about when you first heard that your overseas posting would happen?
Oh look, the one that didn't happen I won't, we were all kitted up and we didn't go. We were sent here, there and everywhere.
Where did you go then when you….
I went down to Goulburn.
How long were you in Goulburn?
Too long. God, it was a terrible place.
Oh don't worry about that.
And so cold, but not that long. But I was pretty lucky because the CO of the unit there was married to my mother's best friend's sister, so I used to go out on picnics and etcetera with the with the family but oh when I got the phone call to say report to the ship I couldn't get out of the place quickly enough.
Were you worried that it might be a false alarm
No I knew it was okay. Packed myself up and headed for home and went out and got my colour patches and….
And you went off.
Went off. Couldn't get off quickly enough. But everyone was so nice on the ship. They really were. They were great.
So how long was it before you boarded the sh… in between finding out and boarding the ship?
Oh it'd be only a few days.
And what was
your parents' reaction to that the final news?
Well my mother was able to contain herself very admirably. She didn't burst into tears. She took me into Freemans I think it was Freemans, photographers, to have a couple of photos taken. They were the best ones in town at that stage and I'm sitting there with a look on my face 'cause I didn't want to have my photo taken.
So you knew your mother was upset?
Oh yes I knew she would but she could contain herself. She didn't as I say, she didn't make a scene or scream or yell but
she did, was it the first or second time I went away, she had a an ulcer from worry.
When did she get the ulcer?
Oh dear, I think that was probably when I went to the Tablelands. She was probably glad to see me home from being away in the Middle East and so on but she had pneumonia and she you know was really sick.
Your stepfather. How did he react?
Oh I don't know. Can't tell you.
Did you see him?
Well he was working every day and I was probably out meeting friends at night. Not too late. We weren't allowed to go out then. One fellow came in three stone. I went up to get some blood from him one night when I was looking for Ward 40 and he just looked like a skeleton laying there. He left our hospital and went back, he was English,
one of the English POWs. Went back six stone I think. Back to England. Dreadful mess.
Okay, now at the hospital in Concord you've now ready to go on the ship….
I was in Goulburn when I….
Oh you were Goulburn when you
got that the posting?
And who told you about it?
Well I think it came over by phone but we must have known about it because I packed myself up and went home.
Why did they send you to Goulburn?
They didn't know what to do with us because we'd been all kitted out go to the Middle East.
And do you know why you didn't go?
We didn't go because Japan came into the war and they were,
everybody was in confusion at that stage.
Tell me about when Japan entered the war what was the reaction like?
Well it was pretty awful because we heard you know that they'd bombed Hawaii I think it was, wasn't it? Hawaii? We'll say Hawaii, that's good enough, and we knew it'd you know, be all on but they'd been having a war with China for years
and it didn't seem possible that they'd be able to sustain another war but they certainly could.
And did that change people's feelings about the war?
Well it shocked them I think and a lot of Americans came to Sydney but look, I never did see too many because I was never there. In Sydney I mean, but a lot of Americans were there.
Did it change your attitude to the war?
Well it made a difference because the government brought everybody home from the Middle East eventually because the war was going to be in the Pacific then.
And the feeling that Australia was directly threatened, did that happen immediately?
Mm, oh I suppose it did.
Probably did. Everybody felt threatened I think. It was amazing that they didn't really invade.
And so how long were you down in Goulburn?
Oh just a few months thank goodness. Terrible place. It was so cold. Well at the hospital I went down with another VA and we admitted the patients and treated them on the train, hospital train. We admitted them as we went.
What was it like working on a hospital train?
Oh it was funny. I wasn't nursing, I was admitting the patients Taking their name and number and all that sort of thing. Finding which ward they were going to go to.
And how long was the train trip?
Oh from Sydney to Goulburn. Just a few hours I suppose.
Was that a regular part of….
No I only went once. We were just opening the hospital up there. I always seemed to be going somewhere where they were just opening a hospital.
And when you got
the call to go to go, how soon did you leave Goulburn?
Oh I must have gone the next day, as soon as there was a train. Packed up and gone.
So you had a lot of excitement in the camp?
Well I was the only one excited 'cause everybody else would have liked to have gone.
You were the only one in Goulburn that went?
I was the only one then but my sister-in-law, she wasn't my sister-in-law then, rang me a couple of days later to say she was coming too so two of us came up from Goulburn.
So everybody wanted to go. They were all so disappointed we hadn't gone overseas in the first place. We were all you know all absolutely kitted up to the eyebrows with all this luggage. You had to lug it around with you everywhere.
How long were you waiting, were they kitted up waiting for this call that never came?
Oh some of them I think I don't know what happened to the rest of the people who were at Goulburn, I've got no idea. But
around about when we came off the ship that's when we turned into AAMWS [Australian Army Medical Women’s Service] unbeknown to us but oh I was glad to go, I can tell you. I was so excited.
When did you first see the Oranje?
When I went down there to get on board.
And what your feelings when you first saw that ship?
Oh it I was….. I was so excited. Truly I really was so excited. To be going
overseas and to be going to the. well you know. to where the war really was and to be one of the chosen few, because there were only a few of us going there.
You were the only one from Goulburn. Did you have friends that….
Oh well those girls were. The other ones that were there they'd been in our group to go to the Middle East and we didn't go so they were all at Concord.
So you all met on the day that you were departing in at Circular
I think some of them were still on board. I don't know but I went home and had a few days' leave before I went and I can't remember how many days before we actually sailed but I remember I was I was sitting on deck, everybody else had a leave pass, and I was sitting, I hadn't done anything and I was sitting on deck with a bag of peas I think it was, peeling peas, and they took the troop ship for a trial run. It was so funny.
All by myself. Out on the deck with a bag of peas.
Where did the trial run go?
Well we went just to the Heads and around the harbour.
Were there a lot of ships a watching, yachts and things watching?
No I don't think there'd be too many yachts. No, I don't think so but for me I was so excited truly to be going away and to be going somewhere I'd never been and to be part of the chosen few that went.
So you felt part of a select bunch?
Yes. Yes, we did. We most certainly did.
Did you feel connection with the Anzac tradition in that way?
Well I suppose we did. I mean they only talk about it when the war was over and you came back because they were stil, the original Anzacs were still going strong at that stage.
And were there a lot of people to see the ship off?
Nobody. You didn't have people down to see you off. That's what I was saying. I felt so sorry for the people who went the other day [to Iraq for service in the Gulf War II]. They've got their relatives there and the Prime Minister's there and everybody's crying and then Mr Crean [Leader of the Opposition] has to get up and say they shouldn't be going and would they like to come back. I mean it's bad enough getting yourself together to go with everybody crying around you. It's a very emotional time to be going off like that. I did feel
sorry for them.
Were was it a rule that families weren't to….
Oh look everything was in the deepest secrecy in those days. Nobody knew where anybody was.
So families were just not permitted to go to the Quay to see people off?
Well they wouldn't know you were going anyway.
Oh you couldn't tell them?
No. I mean they knew I was on the ship but….
What could you tell your parents?
That you were on the hospital ship.
But you weren't allowed to say….
Didn't know where you were going.
But they knew when
you were going? The day?
They didn't no, they didn't know the day. We just went. I mean we knew when we were going, but you couldn't say so.
Must have made it difficult to say goodbye then if you weren't meant to say?
It is but I think we were all young.
So when did you mother find out you had gone overseas?
Oh well she knew I was going because I'd come up to go on the hospital ship so she would know I was going to be sailing.
But she didn't know the exact
Well no, nobody did. No. Everything was absolutely secret but I suppose lots of people knew just the same but you didn't talk about it. All your letters were, that was the funniest thing. When we arrived in the first port after we left Australia you sent home a radiogram. Of course it goes something like '1,
15, 25, 50, 100' or something or other. That means 'Safe and well. All safe and well.' Oh dear.
What was the weather like that day?
It was a lovely day, beautiful day the day we sailed out.
And did you feel any apprehension about the future?
No I didn't think I never thought of anything happening to me.
Some of my other friends say exactly the same thing.
And were on the ship you had a lot of new people to meet and….
Oh well I knew all the girls but I didn't know the sisters. I didn't know the fellows. And I didn't know the New Zealanders. Oh, there's always new people to meet.
Well you went into, I went into a cabin with two other girls and I knew them both anyway.
Who were they?
Olga and Gwen up there in the photograph. Olga Butler and Gwen Ilich.
And they became close friends or they already were?
Yes and Gwen eventually shared a tent with me in both on the Tablelands and in Borneo.
And your friends, were they as excited as you?
Well I know Joan, my sister-in-law, was
and they probably were too because they'd been on a trip before, the others.
Who was the captain of the ship?
Captain Potcher. A Dutch civilian. Probably merchant navy and there was also a colonel. We had a colonel, the New Zealanders had a colonel and the Dutch had a colonel.
And did he
meet the nurses and….
Captain or at least colonel, I can't think of his name, well he was a bit scary. Our colonel, Colonel Major, was a lovely gentleman and colonel, New Zealand colonel. I should know him. Can't think of his name either but he was a nice gentleman. But the Dutch one was always a….
What was the routine like on the ship going out?
Oh you worked
very hard on the way over. You just cleaned everything and made beds up and 'cause once we had patients on board you just you usually got up at five or six o'clock in the morning to receive them on board and you worked seven days a week and you worked from just went down and had lunch, but you worked 'til the night staff came on at nine o'clock. Or did they come on at eight?
But it was you know out of bed and off to work. Worked very hard.
Did you enjoy the routine?
Oh yes. Yeah, but you worked, you know, you worked like a slave.
What were the sisters like?
Oh absolutely lovely. Really lovely. Charming ladies.
Was there a sense of army discipline about the ship?
Well on the ship you can't have the same sort of discipline that you have in a, I mean we had discipline alright because we also had to march around
the deck every day when there were no patients on board and of course there was always lifeboat drill and even when the patients came on board you'd just get out, have someone, be washing somebody out with a…. have to put down your bowl of water, grab your escape gear and rush up when the bell went. We lived by bells then.
And what was the food like?
Beautiful on the hospital ship.
Lovely. We travelled first class.
And what sort of things were you given to eat?
Oh things that we probably didn't eat at home but they used to have lovely meals. Night time I'd go night duty I'd go and collect a little bucket thing with things that we never ate at home. You'd open it up and usually a cockroach'd jump out and then there'd be various types
of bread, all these meats, well they looked like raw meat to us sometimes. This is night duty but that's what you ate in the middle of the night there.
This would be Dutch catering?
The first time you'd encountered….
I mean would any of the nurses been overseas before?
I don't know. Probably not.
It was your first trip?
Yes it was my first trip.
I don't think so. Only the ones that had already gone. No, no, I don't think so. I mean I don't know. I never asked.
What did you imagine you might find overseas? Did you think of it did you think of it as very different to Australia?
Yes we thought it would be very different and we thought of the patients we'd be looking after. We didn't at that stage know that we'd be looking after not Australians, but Canadians,
British, Scottish, Irish as I said before and South Africans.
Did you know much about the progress of the war in the Middle East?
Well it wasn't too bad. We did hear a bit about it when we were on the ship but in other places you didn't hear much at all.
So were you wondering what you might did you had any idea of the scale of the casualties?
Well we'd heard about all these battles here
there and everywhere and it was really quite frightening I think.
How did how did you deal with the…. that sort of frightening feeling?
Oh well I wasn't frightened, I mean you had back up. I mean you were there with other people. You weren't by yourself doing things but I worked in a little special ward at one stage and the poor fellow there was going to lose his leg.
Was that on the Oranje?
Yes. That was on the trip home.
And who was he? An Australian soldier?
No he was a New Zealand soldier.
An officer. I'm not quite sure. I really can't tell you because I'm not quite sure. I can remember lots of things but you know sixty odd years ago.
Interviewee: Peggy Mason Archive ID 0041 Tape 04
Tales of the people's lives that escaped you know with the war histories and….
That's right. My daughter, my younger daughter asked me to write her a thing of my life. And I wrote it all out, my typewriter wouldn't work at that stage, and she couldn't read it. So there we are. But I thought
it was perfectly legible.
Peggy, tell me about the sense of camaraderie on board the ship on the way out. Before you had got to Suez and how important that was.
Oh it was very important really. If you didn't get on with people well it was just you know, you shouldn't have been on in the first place but everybody was friendly and nice. We used to go out and play
circlos deck tennis in the afternoon if we weren't working. I must have, oh when I was on night duty I must have gone out to play circlos with some of the patients and we had a Maori, a Maori colonel. He'd had his tongue blown off. I remember being out playing circlos with him, deck tennis, that is. But it was great.
When you were travelling up there were there any fears of encountering Japanese?
Oh well they were always seemed to be on the lookout for something like that and at one stage we put on the speed, the thing was going flat out and another time we stopped in the middle of nowhere. It was eight o'clock at night and the sun was brilliantly shining. We must have been in the Indian Ocean and because the clock had
been put forwards or backwards or whatever they do at sea when you're going straight across and everybody's head’s out the portholes having a look to see what was going on. Nothing. Couldn't see a thing.
Did that add any tension to the ship?
No not for me. As I said we were all hoped nothing happened. We always had this drill when we had
no patients on board and when you had patients you went somewhere else.
Were you told anything about the Japanese. What you might expect?
No. No. Only what you read in the paper. But it was so terrible about the 8th Division you know. All the young fellows being taken prisoner. 'Cause some of the sisters lost their lives too. Not our sisters here
they went down in the Centaur, but a lot of them had been on a ship. It was torpedoed and they came ashore and they were shot as they came out of the water. I think there was one sister saved. Very cruel, the Japanese.
When did you hear about the Centaur?
Oh I was in, I'd just taken some new recruits out to Victoria Barracks and I was coming into town and I was waiting for the tram to pick them up. The paperboy was singing out, "Hospital ship torpedoed!" and I quickly bought a paper and there I was standing in Elizabeth Street all alone, I mean thousands of people around me I suppose, but
to read this terrible story and just think it was only March that that photo was taken and this was May, beginning of May and so many of them had gone. Very emotional. I still get very emotional about it.
How many friends did you lose?
Oh look some of those lovelysSisters. They were all friends. They were part of our family. You know we're all part of a family on board there and
all the young fellows. Nell Savage, she was the only sister saved and I've got a letter there, 'cause I look after our hospital ship thing now. I write to everybody who's left. Tom handed it over to me some years ago and there's a letter there from a young American who was on the ship that, I think he said he was eighteen or seventeen,
he heard a woman's voice on the ship that picked them up and they called out, "Is there a woman there?" and she said, "Yes." and but course all her clothes had been so they sent her down a jacket to put on and she was the only Sister saved. She died a few years ago, on Anzac Day. We'd been down to Sydney Hospital
and Lorna and I came out together and walked across the road and she came up with one of the Dennehys and they were going to get her a cab and got up to the footpath there and she just dropped dead.
When the tragedy happened did that change your perception of the enemy in any way?
it did, it was so terrible, yeah. I mean as I said today we're still the same. We're still very you know, you think about it and it's pretty terrible.
But before it happened when you were going to the Middle East, was there a feeling that hospital ships were safe. Not targets?
Well I mean there was always a target, I mean it was supposed to be. Thank goodness it wasn't when we were on it but no, as I said
I was twenty two and I couldn't I just couldn't even think of anything happening. Didn't even imagine that anything would ever happen to me. It happened to everybody else but not to me. I know it sounds so silly now.
Do you think that was a way that everybody coped in a way?
Oh it could have been I suppose. Mm. Could have been.
But you had your friends around you on the ship
all the time?
Oh yes lovely, but as I said only four or five of us left now and, girls, and a few fellows. One of them rang me up last night from Melbourne. There's another one in Adelaide, but we're all old, but it was just one of those things. You go and if you're not thinking about it which is good.
me about some of the ports that you visited.
Oh well we went to Suez. I only got off once in Suez. Also Aden, went to Aden, and of course you're not allowed to eat or drink anything in any of these places and these American fellows picked us up you might say and said they'd take us out for a drive, but they took us for lunch and I really felt terrible,
eating. They said, "Don't worry, we come here all the time." and it looked like camel we were eating.
Who told you not to eat the food?
Oh that's one of the rules when you went to a port like that, you didn't eat or drink anything.
And why was that?
Oh well I mean, have you been to Aden?
No I haven't.
Well if you take one look you'd understand why.
And so did you get a chance to have a bit of time off there?
Oh they took
us out to have a look at the around where the ships were being built. Not ships like we were on, I mean sort of dhows and things and to a place called the Queen of Sheba’s Baths and somewhere else. They were a couple of nice boys. They just liked to see and maybe that's what matron used to say. "When you go to Aden people will come and talk to you and want to take you out. Go." because they hadn't seen women for years some of them
but then we another time we went and this English gentleman picked us up and he took us for an ice cream and there am I absolutely thinking, "I'm going to die eating this." It must be camel's milk, that's the only milk around, and it came in a great big glass and all melting, this melting ice cream in the bottom which we duly ate up thinking "Oh we're going to be poisoned."
Were the nurses looking forward to meeting troops at the ports and things?
Oh they were there, so if you were if you'd come onshore, well you know, really they asked you to go well you went.
Were there any sort of warnings about the fast Americans?
Oh no but these two weren't. They were a couple of nice
fellows. They ….nothing shady about the whole thing. Just for a trip out and lunch. We had to go back.
Was there a curfew on the ship?
Oh I think we went to bed ten o'clock every night. Ten p.m.
And when did you get up?
Oh we seemed to be always up at six a.m. but depended you know with patients on board, things were just a bit different.
Okay. Tell me about then when you went up to Suez and embarkation day.
Oh embarkation day started at the crack of dawn. Everybody up and as your patients came through all bed patients had to be sponged and you had to sponge some of them and they'd get up and walk around but no, it was terrible. They did it in red hot time,
yeah. I've got a book there about the Oranje which I should have looked up I suppose and I'd be able to tell you. But we were always away about midday I should think or afternoon but as I said you'd just get away and the bell'd go the alarm'd go and you had to dump your patients and your bowls of water and fly down for boat drill.
And what was boat drill?
Well in case you were sinking. In case we were sunk
Oh I see.
Going to be
So when you got into Suez and the first patients, were they waiting at the port?
Had they been brought in?
No they we would have probably come in the night before they came. They came by train and then over in lighters
You know, the boats.
And where were you when they first came on board?
I was probably waiting in the ward. I may have been looking over the side at some stage but of course you're not there for very long because you've got to
start sponging patients and giving them drinks and handing around the urinals which are big glass urinals and of course some of them had been on trains for hours and hours and they'd be so full you'd be absolutely terrified they'd spill over and you wouldn't be able to cart them out anyway but poor things, we made them feel very much
at home. The English and Scottish see they were really so grateful for everything we ever did. We had them on board once for Christmas and we were out on the deck on the way to collect them, packing stockings with oranges and oh anything the Red Cross'd give us so everybody got a stocking for Christmas and padre took us around singing, I was going on night duty I think, took us around singing carols. Never heard anything like it.
The night before and we all had to pack up and go and leave him to it.
I'll start of with how the wounded were brought onto the ship off the boats.
Well anybody you know on a stretcher would come over in what they call the cot lift. It was a great big sort of
crane and it would bring the stretchers up over the top of the ship and put them on deck instead of having to cart them up another way.
Is that one at a time?
I'm not sure that it didn't take two. I can't really tell you. If I looked in my book there I'd be able to recollect whether it did or not but I just know the cot lift was going from the time it started until we were just about ready to sail.
And where were you? Were you below decks in the wards?
No I wasn't. I was never in the below decks. I mean I used to have to go down and do a message or two sometimes but they had to have, the sea door was closed and they had to open and close those just to come out but I was lucky. I was up in some top decks. We had portholes and….
Were they treated on deck as soon as they came on?
Oh well they were
whisked into their ward, whichever ward they were going into they were whisked in there and help was at hand straight away.
And how long were they on ship?
Well the ones going down to Durban, I don't know there was perhaps about ten days I think but look, isn't it awful? I mean it might have been shorter and it might have been longer. We went into dry dock there at one stage but
poor things. We must have had a few days there anyway in Durban because we went out to Pietermaritzburg to visit some of the patients we'd been looking after.
So you formed friendships with a lot of the….
Oh yes with patients. Even in ten days, yeah.
Can you tell me about some of the friendships you formed?
Oh I've got a few letters there that from people that wrote to me
and they were in…. really didn't keep anything up with the Australian ones because I mean you were coming and going. I told you about Douglas Birman. Beautiful teeth and lovely moustache. Looked a bit like you. Jolly smile of course, great wounds on his legs etcetera and that's the one that said I'm going to take you to the
Bar Escape when we get to Durban.
And what became of him?
Oh he had to go into hospital. He was a bed patient so either he probably went to Pietermaritzburg I suppose but I didn't see him again. Saw some of the others but they were lovely boys you know. Absolutely gorgeous.
They were very pleased to be ashore.
Tell me a bit about how the wards were organised on the ship.
Look I'm sorry I haven't got a photo
Oh that's okay.
Somewhere in there I've got a book about it. Just think of a long say a something from here to the front door and would have say three rows of bunks. Top bunks for the people who could walk and the lower bunks were you know bed cases and there was a little dining room off one end and a door
both ends. I know one night I went onto night duty and there was no milk. No no millick. I had to go 'round to the galley to get some and I came back and as I came back I walked through the ward from the side door there and there was a fellow getting into a top bunk and as I got to him he changed his mind
and the foot he was going to put up he put down straight in the milk, fell to the floor, this great big jug, and the lights went out and it was fairly rough so there was milk going everywhere. Oh dear oh dear. It couldn't have been timed better. It was so perfect. Never seen anything like it. If you tried to do it you wouldn't have been able. Never forget that. His foot coming straight into the jug. Big white enamel jug. Had a
mechanical cow on board. That's what they called it.
That's where the milk was kept.
Was it refrigerated?
No, it was milk powder but the mechanical cow mixed it up.
What did the mechanical cow look like?
I didn't see it. I didn't work in the galley thank goodness.
The milk just arrived?
So how many nurses were on a ward?
Well, what you can see there and probably an equal number of New Zealanders and a quite a few Dutch. Big, big staff
and I can't remember how many patients we carried. I should have looked that up before you came.
How high was the ceiling?
Oh it was quite high.
And how many wards were there on the ship?
Oh crikey, I don't know. I worked in a little special ward at one stage and Ward A, A Ward was just single beds
because they were the you know, sickest patients see but it's so hard to recall everything but the patients were very well looked after, let me tell you. They had absolutely wonderful care.
You felt that you were all well trained?
Oh I thought you know everybody was. Some marvellous
orderlies too. Some of our fellows that worked in the office. Just depended.
How did the male orderlies get along with the female nurses?
Oh I don't know. Some of them were alright. Little Titch (UNCLEAR) worked in Ward 7 where I was and when I was on night duty he used to sneak off for a sleep and I've been asleep standing up I can tell you.
You get so tired.
Were the male orderlies outnumbered by the girls?
Oh well all those sisters and just take a look at that. A lot of those fellows worked in the office. There's the padre there I can see and the OSM and they did other things beside look after patients but just
make that by double it for Australians. I don't think there was quite as few many New Zealanders but.
Did you have patients on board that didn't speak English?
Oh yes we had some Polish prisoners of war that had been captured by the Russians.
When did they come on board?
They came from, oh I don't know where they'd been but they
they were being repatriated because they had TB [Tuberculosis] and poor things couldn't speak English and they were out on the deck in hanging cots as they call them in the fresh air but they poor things couldn't speak English. I don't know whether they were going to stay in South Africa or going onto England. I'm not sure.
Did anyone try and try and talk
Mary tried to at Christmas time, it must have been Christmas time, yes, she put on a lovely red cap and that they got really cranky because they didn't like red.
Why didn't they like red?
The Russians. Russians had been particularly cruel to them.
Did they know that she was just trying to be nice?
I don't know unless they had an interpreter. They wouldn't really have known.
And they were kept in isolation because of the TB?
Out on the deck.
What other sorts of injuries and diseases were there?
Well people coming home that had some of the troops had been out in the Middle East, you know the British and the Imperial ones, they'd been out in the Middle East for years. A couple of sisters that were coming back and one of them had been there for thirty years out in the Middle East but somebody there was one fellow with a brain tumour. Well I mean he wouldn't have been in the army recently if you know what I mean.
He must have been out in the Middle East too and chest wounds you know, really ill people. Terrible.
Was it noisy in the wards?
No. No it wasn't. They all talked a lot and they played music every afternoon. Lorna, one of our VAs, who's up in that photo, used to play records, requests, in the afternoon
and one afternoon she announced that Private Smith would like one night of love. Well you see you wouldn't have known but 'One Night of Love' was sung by Grace Moore, an opera singer, and it was a very popular song and that's what they'd requested. Grace Moore singing 'One Night of Love' but it came over sounding so strange. Somebody would like one night of love. Never let it….
she never lived that down.
So what, all the men burst out laughing?
Well I think they did, yes and Vera Lynn of course was played constantly, day and night. Well not quite night but day and who else? Oh some of the favourite songs I mean you know, really you know I
can't even remember their names. Isn't it terrible? I can hear the music in my mind but can't recall the names. But we tried to make it a really lovely place for people to be. They had the best care you could possibly have on a hospital ship but anybody who could be taken up on deck used to be taken up into the fresh air and sunshine.
How do you think the care compared to
the facilities at Concord?
Oh probably not that good but they were good just the same. There was a pathology on board. Tom Eckhurst worked in the pathology on the hospital ship. A lovely theatre and plenty of supplies and plenty of food. Absolutely terrific.
Did the Australian soldiers like the Dutch food?
I didn't ask them but they
all ate it up. I think they'd been you know, the food they'd been getting had been pretty terrible. It would have been an improvement but they had lovely meals. I'm sorry I haven't got a menu to show you and we always had a bit of a celebration for the birth of one of the Dutch princesses or the Queen's Birthday, Queen Beatrix, no Queen Wilhelmina and Princess Beatrix and
there was always something special on like that.
I was just wondering what the Dutch knew about Australia?
Well until they'd been coming to Australia I don't really know because the crew itself you know, the boys, they were Indonesian, most of them, and the officers were Dutch. The wireless operators and the,
well they were not troops, they would have been merchant navy I suppose but I don't know. Some of them had probably been around the, not the Middle East, around Singapore and Malaya for years because the Dutch had a lot of territory there.
how were the Dutch men's relations with the Indonesian crew?
I don't know. They were probably pretty strict with them I think but they were funny, the boys. A couple of them died with TB while we were on board. A couple of the Indonesian boys. If you came into port they'd get dressed up to the nines. They used to wear black on the ship. Black pants and white jacket and a lovely little scarf
oh that was the (UNCLEAR) that came 'round with the dinner gong but to see them going ashore looking absolutely fantastic, they thought.
Did they go ashore with the nurses?
No, not the not the Indonesian boys, no.
Why was that? They liked to keep to themselves?
Well I think they were really below decks if you know what I mean. They did the laundry and the cleaning and the
head fellow was a really big fellow and he used to wear all black and one of those funny little hats on his head and while we were busy cleaning up he used to come down, "How much do you girls get a day?" We'd tell him "Oh oh, how much do you get a week?" "How long do you work?" He knew very well but couldn't help just telling us how much more they were all getting than we
ever did and we'd be working away, scrubbing everything down, and then the officer'd come 'round with you know, all these pipe things and go, “Not clean enough.”
Was that a sore point amongst some of the nurses, the pay?
No I don't think so. No. We thought it was you know, really very amusing because how could you be like that?
How did you get paid?
Oh it went into our pay books and every whatever it was, week or two weeks they'd pop the amount in and you could draw it out if you wanted to. Didn't always mean you had it in your hand.
Was there a purser?
Yes there was a pay master. What was his
name? Young Greene. He used to work with my stepfather at the Railways Department. He was the pay master.
And so you'd take the wounded on board at Suez and take them down to Durban
Was that a ceaseless run?
Yes it was a ceaseless run, yes. Yes.
And what was the day-to-day routine on that ten day trip?
Oh well up at the crack of dawn unless you were on night duty and off to work. You'd sponge everybody, well unless the night duty staff had sponged them already you'd be doing the rest of the sponges. They came on at seven I think and we went off at half past seven if we were on night duty or perhaps they came on at six. Probably six and then off at ten.
So it was a…. you know, you could go for your meal and just keep working but nobody minded. I mean you had to do it and there it was.
And on the on the way back?
On the way back you'd be cleaning up the ship. You didn't have to get up at six o'clock then. Got up a little later but you were still up early because I mean there's no laying around in bed when you you're on any of these things. Up and into the shower and dressed and up on deck. March around the deck.
Have breakfast. Clean up the ship. Make up all the beds again then you'd go, some matron'd say " I've never seen anything worse in my life than these beds." and you'd take them to pieces and make them all up again before you went ashore.
Was that was that a form of punishment or discipline?
Oh discipline. Discipline was very tight on the ship. Mm. Nothing you weren't game
to…. I mean they were all lovely but you weren't game to do anything out of order. I got into trouble for stepping over a line once.
Tell me about that.
Well I went out on deck with my…. you always hard to cart around your escape gear with you and I just stepped over there and then up came someone, one of the Dutch I think, and said, "You're standing over the line. Jump off." I didn't even see it.
I just thought I'd come out on the deck and have some lovely fresh air.
Did they did they have any form of punishment for that sort of thing or…
Not for us, no. No. They'd tell you if you didn't do the right you were told. Very smartly.
Were the nurses frightened of the sisters?
We weren't frightened of the sisters, no they were lovely. They were lovely people. We were all working hard.
there was a big sense of team spirit.
Oh yes. Yeah.
How about, were there any fears about enemy submarines on these trips?
Well I think a lot of people were but oh look, I don't know. Someone mentioned a time when, might have been before my time on the ship, when a submarine, they all stopped in the middle of somewhere.
A submarine came up and talked to someone on board and went again but it couldn't have been an enemy one. It must have been one of ours.
Tell me about the port at Suez. What was that like?
Oh well it was pretty horrible. I don't know there must have been a paint factory in Suez somewhere or other and overnight everything'd be sort of covered in a layer of sort of pale yellow.
Pretty dirty old place so there was a mine there with this great big monument thing with a lion and they say if you touch the lion you'll always come back. I haven't been back.
Is that a local superstition?
Oh it must have been I think, yes, but it was all these people selling things and they're all filthy dirty. There was some quite nice houses there.
I think there'd been a lot of French people living there at some stage or other behind walls but no I wouldn't want to live there.
Just on that topic of the local superstition was there any customs or superstitions on the ship maybe you could tell me about.
Well probably the nurses had plenty of superstitions and customs but
the ones that I was most amazed by were the some of the fellows that came out on the lighters with you know, petrol some of them. There was one lot and early in the morning the head fellow got up and washed himself all over out of the sea with water and dressed himself up and then he sort of looked like Ronald Coleman [Hollywood actor] and he had this troop of people and they were all pulling things and doing exercises and some sort of you know it must have been,
I can't believe, it he must have been something to do with they were probably all Muslims and that but and Allah and somebody used to get up and call out of a tower early in the morning but I'll never forget this lot with this fellow that looked like Ronald Coleman. All performing something or other I've no idea, but it was very entertaining.
On the way out did you have a crossing the line ceremony?
No. We had a crossing of the line ceremony going to Borneo, which I didn't have to.
I'd already crossed the line umpteen times but no, there wasn't on the hospital ship. That would have been not the right thing to do but going up on the Manunda or Wanganella, one or the other, they had a crossing of the line ceremony and my one of my tent mates was one of the mermaids. She had long hair and the trouble with her long hair was she decided to wash it on the way up to Borneo and the trouble
there was that we didn't realise that the water on board, we thought it would be perfectly okay, it'd had been highly chlorinated and her hair came, she had long, long hair and it came out like stiff like this, like rope. It didn't matter what we did we couldn't get it…. somebody said put vinegar on it. Oh dear oh dear. the water was. As I said we thought it would be perfectly alright on the out trip.
But no, highly chlorinated.
I think we might stop there now because the tape is just about out and that's about all we would have time for this morning.
Interviewee: Peggy Mason Archive ID 0041 Tape 05
Ah well Peggy, I thought I'd start with something nice and light that was interest to me interesting to me though yesterday was you talking about how important reading was when you were younger.
Oh yes, I couldn't get enough reading. My mother was always singing out, "Peggy put out that light!" and I'd say "Yes mum, as soon as I finish this chapter." but I could as soon as I could read she was absolutely delighted 'cause she didn't have to read to me and then she probably thought afterwards, "Heavens above, what have I started?"
but I did. I read constantly.
What was it about the reading that you enjoyed so much?
Well I just liked reading. I just loved books.
Did you used to imagine yourself in amongst them? Did you have good pictures in your head and…
Yes, yes. I used to write pretty good compositions in those days too when I was quite young, mm.
And what were some of your favourite sorts of books that you were reading?
Oh well when I was in my teens I used to go the local library there and they had a pretty good selection
of books and I took out just about everything they had in the…. they wouldn't let me take out anything they thought was a little bit too risqué. Everybody else had read it at school. Not me, but I couldn't get enough books. I really couldn't.
Was that your favourite part of schooling as well?
English and writing and…..
English yes. I liked English, mm.
Was it did you enjoy your time at school
Yes I did.
Or were you pleased to leave?
sorry when I had to leave.
Why did you have to leave?
Well I was as I said, repat looked after me and they said if I stayed at school any longer I wouldn't get a job so I had to leave school and go to business college. Went to Stott and Underwood and learnt shorthand and typing and bookkeeping which I to this day I can't bear. I'd rather not keep one of those books.
And did your love of reading and writing continue right through your life?
Yes it's not so
good at the moment. I seem to go to sleep when I'm reading, which is awful, but I still enjoy books, yeah.
Do you still enjoy writing?
Yeah. Writing? Well I write our newsletter for the (UNCLEAR) I always do. Seem to do a page and a half about this big and I always do that alright. When I start to write a letter I can't stop but it's starting that gets me now. I just forget to start. I think, "I'll do it tomorrow."
And were reading and writing
comforts during your war time experience?
Oh look honestly. We lived in a tent. It was okay on the ship and anywhere else but once we joined the 2/6th we had a lantern in the tent and actually in Borneo we had a electric light but I think it was about a forty watt thing. You could just see and that's about all but no, there wasn't enough light to read there and we were busy. Worked hard. Worked
Exhausted by the end of the day I would have thought.
You mentioned was the point when you joined the field ambulance was that sort of the official transition from you
being in the Voluntary Aid Detachment to
I've never been in field ambulance.
Sorry. No the 2/3rd Hospital?
Ah that's right. Well we turned into AAMWS [Australian Army Medical Women's Service] when we came off the ship there. We found out we were now AAMWS. We had done our rookie
training with the girls with the 2/6th and they said "You should come up and join us" because we were without a unit then so when they were going to send my friend and I to a an officers' school we said we wanted to go and join the 2/6th and Colonel Money there asked if we knew whether any of the other girls would like to come up so we named four another four and there we were. Six of us up there.
So you had to make that decision then between being an officer within the Australian Army Medical Women's Service
Yeah, mm, that's right.
joining the 2/3rd hospital?
What drove your decision?
Oh well I liked being a nursing orderly. I think we said we still liked being nursing orderlies, mm. So off we went.
So if you had gone and been an officer you would have been in charge of the orderlies and there would have been more administration.
No it wasn't my thing. I felt I was a bit young for that sort of thing anyway.
So rank obviously wasn't all that an important issue to you.
I didn't care about that, no. Not at all. The only bit of rank I had was before I went up to the 2/6th
and when I went up there I lost it of course to go. I didn't care. I didn't want it.
Did you ever fill sort of leadership positions though? Did you look after some of the younger girls and that sort of thing?
The younger girls? Oh well I mean there weren't too many under you know under twenty, well twenty one. You had to be twenty one so when the you know, re reinforcements came up they'd be younger but they'd be all
looking after each other. They were all young as well but there were a few older girls there. Girls you know, that's anything over thirty and when you're twenty one they look rather aged if you know what I mean. Lovely people. Absolutely gorgeous.
And what about the ranks of the people that you were treating and looking after?
Oh I didn't care.
Their behaviours fitted the particular ranks or were they….
Oh well I've got a picture up there sitting outside the officers' ward where I was
working but they you know you treated them. They'd come out and wipe up for you when you were washing up and just treated you like anybody else. There was no difference really.
Was there officers and troops distinction within the hospital? Within the wards?
Oh they had the officers' ward yes. We had always an officers' ward.
Did they receive any particular advantages in terms of food or care?
No, I think they had mostly you know, little
bit up at the top where they had a little dining room and if they were outpatients they could sit and have their meals at the tables whereas the troops had their meals at their bedside.
And in a situation like when you were on board Oranje and you were having embarkation day in the Suez Canal. How did you prioritise who was treated? Was that done by rank or….
Well that would come up and they'd be allocated to the ward you were in and you'd be in there waiting for them to come and as soon as the
first one came you were running around with bowls of water washing them and giving them drinks and as I said yesterday, urinals, because the poor things had been sitting on trains for some considerable time.
So there's no sort of triage [deciding treatment on the basis of medical need] situations that you found yourself in?
I guess that's a relief not to have to deal with that situation and have to choose.
Choose who to prioritise.
I don't know what it would be like in other units you know except hospitals, but a hospital is a hospital. You don't sort of get up and go and out in the early hours and go and parade before you go to work because when you get out of bed you go, quickly have your breakfast and rush up to the ward so the one that's up there can come back and have breakfast and go to bed. So it's quite a different life to what would be perhaps the norm in the navy and the air force. I would think. They always tell you
about having to go on parade first thing in the morning.
It was far more relaxed.
Well it wasn't yeah we were busy, you know. Busy, busy. In a hospital nobody waits. You've all got to be there doing it. It's a doing job.. Hands on.
In terms of the hands on element do you recall this. could you walk me through the way that you would treat a few different types of injuries or wounds? Like you said for example a gunshot wound,
how you would dress that?
Oh well actually all those sort of things on a hospital ship they would have all been plastered before they came. They used to treat gunshot wounds with plasters. A great big plaster over it. I'm thinking about legs at the moment and when that got to be too rotten they'd take it off and put another one on but it must have been a very successful thing, to be able to treat them like that.
So in the whole you would receive generally people
Oh you know they'd have been ill. They weren't only wounded. Some of them would have had, well we had one patient, poor thing, and he had jaundice, I mean they were really quite sick with jaundice and you know, other medical complaints.
But generally the patients were in a fairly stable situation by the time they arrived with you?
Well I know when we came back to Australia we'd been at sea for some considerable time and just about everybody
was up and walking again because we'd at sea for about six weeks I suppose it was and we went to New Zealand and of course everybody there gave them a wonderful time. So I think we had one patient in the ward, poor thing, he couldn't get up at all and everybody else'd be out having a few noggins [drinks] and everybody be there to meet them and take them. All the New Zealand people.
You said that rank wasn't all that important to you.
How important were medals?
Oh well just my medals. They're only campaign medals. Somebody said to me the other day, "What's that one for?" and I said, "That's for being there." and that's what they're all for. Being there.
But are they important to you?
Oh yes well….
Well I know where I've been.
And you said you enjoyed on Anzac Day to have your husband's, your father's and yours together?
Yes I did. I had mine on this side and theirs on the other side. I had them mounted
because my father's have never been mounted. Not only that, but the ribbons had all absolutely gone to nothing. They were just hanging by a thread so I had new ribbons put on as well but it was worth it and John's medals got an outing too.
Fantastic. I'm just a little bit still uncertain about where the distinction from
Voluntary Aid to Medical Women's Service?
Well they couldn't get enough voluntary aids so they created the Australian Army Medical Women's Service and they used to go and do some training at well I'm not sure where they went but they were enlisted. They'd never been belonged to VAs or anything like that. They were just enlisted as nursing orderlies and I think they had to go and do some hospital training or a rookie school some not the one we went to but a you know, a real training one.
Some of them came out cooks, cooks or other you know useful people around the place.
And at what point did that transition occur for you between being a volunteer and being paid?
Oh we were paid, we were paid when we were enlisted in 1941 when I was enlisted I was paid. We used to get four shillings a day. You had an army pay book and but later on I had an army number
but I remember Sister Snelling coming down to the ship and saying, "You're in the army now." I don't know what we thought we'd been in before.
And they just retained the voluntary element of the VAD
No it was not called VADs. We still considered ourselves VADs because it's a bit hard to turn into an AAMWS overnight.
I did read somewhere that there were tensions between
the Army Nursing Service and the Medical Women's Service?
Well look, I didn't ever find that in all the lovely places I was in. You know the hospital ship they were such lovely ladies. That was the 2/6th. Lovely. They'd all been overseas and I think that made a difference. I mean they treated us very well indeed.
So there was just basically separate administration then but you were working together with the Australian Army Nursing Service?
Mm, that's right and a unit was made up of, there were also male orderlies
and troops that did other things I mean they had cooks and people who cleaned up and you know. I mean but it was a whole great big unit of people. Different people. Pharmacists and pathologists and surgeons and oh you know, the whole works that you'd find in any hospital but it didn't look like any hospital.
Were the male orderlies just
plain army guys who'd ended up….
Some of them had been nursing before they enlisted. They'd been mostly psych [psychiatric] nursing in those days but one of our fellows, poor old Bern not Bernie, one of them anyway, when he came out of the army I think he must have gone back to nursing but his two daughters went nursing and he had a son in the bank
and he went and threw it in and went to do nursing too so the whole family was nursing because he married an AAMWS and so the whole lot of them were nursing people.
Nursing seems to be one of those professions that has is handed down through the family. Your mother and….
That's right, yes.
yourself and you were saying that your daughter went into nursing.
Yes. She, I suppose she did it because she didn't know what else to do at that stage. She wasn't too keen on this being
a teacher. That's what she said, "I can only be a teacher." She went to Macquarie[University] for awhile. She started out in Wagga at the college down there and then she came back and went to Macquarie and she still said you know, "All I can be is a teacher if I stay here." so the next pick best thing was nursing.
Were you pleased about that?
Oh yes I was pleased. One of them went to but my elder daughter at that stage was working in the pathology
and then she was over in Perth and she would have needed a science degree to carry on there so something she'd always wanted to do was to be a librarian so she did a course there and she's now a librarian.
So she adopted your love of reading as well and love of books?
Oh yeah. She never had her nose out of a book. Try to get her to school and there she'd be laying on the bed, one sock on and one sock off and reading a book. Only a little girl. From the
very time she could read too she was always there with a book in her head. Book in her hand or her head in a book, whichever you like to say.
And how did you feel about your son being called up to serve in Vietnam?
Well he didn't actually go because it was a little late. He was, I was surprised I thought, "Isn't it sad that we don't know another soul around." and Jim's number came out [chosen in the National Service ballot] and
I think there was one other and they had some handy excuse. He went off. John took him to Marrickville with all these women screaming and yelling. Wouldn't let me go and he went off and like a lamb I suppose like a lamb and did his training but it all finished. Gough Whitlam [Australian Prime Minister] came along and I think it was Billy McMahon [Australian Prime Minster] that finally said no more were to go.
Gough Whitlam finished it off altogether. Jim wasn't too pleased to come back and find that everybody at work had sort of advanced and he was sort of left, however he's done quite well. Didn't do him any harm doing some military, he was always a school cadet.
Were you fearful for him when he got called up?
Oh well I would have been if he'd gone, yes I would have been. Mm. Definitely
because all mothers are like that. Probably fathers are too.
Did you believe in the Vietnam War as much as you believed in World War II?
Well really what got me, I thought it was a fearful way that everybody treated the troops when they came back. They had to creep home and you know sort of be anonymous, just about. When they did have a parade someone came out and threw red paint on them and I'm terrified that sort of thing might
happen with our poor things that have gone away this time because I mean they've gone and they've done what they're supposed to do but it never looked like being a winner, did it? The French had been fighting there for years but no, I don't suppose any of us like our children going. That's what I say. I'm amazed at some of these young women that are going off and they're leaving their baby behind them for somebody else to look after while they whip off to the war.
Once upon a time if you were married you were out straight away but good on them, I mean it's really good but I don’t know if anything happened to them, who looks after the child? Or children even? Some of them have both mum and dad away.
You mentioned yesterday during the Depression that there used to be people on the street corners talking politics
And that it scared you.
It did scare me
'cause they were always yelling and screaming and there'd be crowds of people around having a fight. I was terrified. Absolutely.
What do you recall of what they were talking about?
No I didn't want to hear it. I wanted to get away. I didn't want to hear it all. No not me, but of course later on when my mother remarried there used to be people always at our back door. In the morning she was always giving some poor thing breakfast. We had people coming around selling
pens and shoelaces and I mean the most well-educated people didn't have a job in those days. It was really something terrible. I think they must have got a, well I said the dole but I think they must have got a sort of thing to take to the shop and you'd get some groceries. I don't know how they existed. I really don't. Fortunately we were alright.
So a at a younger age
whilst you were very passionate about your reading, did you not take much of a direct interest in politics?
No. No. No. I have been over the last twenty years I probably had a lot more interest 'cause I had a friend. We used to ring up every day. Ring each other every day and have our political chat. I've (UNCLEAR) now some people I mean some people wouldn't I wouldn't talk politics with anyway because you've got to be
rather careful about what people think but with someone who's on the same wavelength well you can have a real good old chat about the whole thing.
So what do you think it was that sparked your interest in it then later on in life?
Heavens knows. I suppose it was a bit more sense. Have to grow up a bit.
So were you aware in the lead up to World War II of the politics involved in Germany and Japan and things that were….
Oh I suppose
And the machinations of global politics?
We always saw Hitler doing something horrible and I remember when, oh what on earth's the name, Finland came into the war at least I think Germany went in and attacked them and there you know all these people frozen where they stood. With guns. Their clothing wasn't good enough. No, it was pretty horrible but everybody was a bit frightened of Hitler. I mean what would
Did it seem to you at the time a just war or did you not even think of it at the time?
Yes, well I really thought the war was a good thing because they'd invaded, look at all the places in Europe. People were in the most disgraceful, poor things, in disgraceful conditions being bombed out of their homes. They just ran roughshod over everybody.
Just took over everything and then Russia must have come into the war. I can't remember when they came in but some of their soldiers were sort of, you'd see photos of them frozen stiff just standing there and they had shoes with cardboard soles in them in the snow oh it was very, very, very cold climate in Russia. Terrible but they of course
then sort of took over Germany when the war was over and had that great wall built, the Berlin Wall.
As you saw those sort of developments after the war was over did you still feel like it had all been worthwhile?
Well it was absolutely marvellous to meet all the people I met and there was some people who you know would never be the same again and all the people that didn't come home, that was
really very sad, but I remember it was so good to have known all the people. I still know, well I mean if they're alive I know them, but yes it we all said it was a good thing and we all said it was a good thing they dropped the bomb 'cause it still might be going on. My daughter was really upset with me when I told her that but it's true. It stopped the war
and as I said when it first started you know it might be a year or two, that was '39 but it finished in the end of '45 so that's six years. Too much.
In all the time in service can you think of a particular moment or event that you were most proud of?
Oh look I mean I was just so proud of myself when I was on the hospital ship you know first time on
but I mean we always worked hard and I suppose I was quite happy with myself doing what I was doing but I didn't need to be proud. I mean I wasn't unhappy, I was happy, knew lovely people and worked hard.
Did you manage to walk away at the end without any regrets or any situations that you regretted?
I wouldn't say I wouldn't say I walked away without any regrets. Yeah I've got a few regrets, mm, but I'm not going to tell you what they were.
I understand. Were there occasions when you felt incredibly helpless or overwhelmed by maybe the amount of casualties coming in or anything like that?
No we usually got them after the, you know they were brought from somewhere else but no, we all had our job to do and we did it. Just kept doing it 'til it was finished. When you're young you can
stand all these things. You hope.
I just wanted to move on to talk about your time at Labuan Island.
It occurred shortly after Victory in Europe, didn't it? That you would have travelled?
Over there may maybe just a month
Well we left Australia in July I think, or was it the end of June, something like that, and we stayed with these 2/5th or the 2nd yeah the 2/5th at Morotai for a while. There was water there. They'd turned the water off. Everybody'd be under the shower there all soaped up and there'd be one trickle left without about fifty people trying to get under it to take the soap off. Very busy there. The airport, someone took me out there at night.
A few people had been decapitated by the planes coming in. Seemed to be no light and all these planes going and coming and turning into places and you I didn't want to go there again but then we took off and off we went to up to Labuan and a lot of sunken ships in the harbour there.
Sunken ships and ruined buildings. Bombed out buildings.
How was it getting on the boat to travel to Labuan?
Oh we got on at Morotai.
Mm the second one I can't remember it was either the Wanganella or the no it must have been the Manunda both times.
Did travelling by ship take on new significance to you after the sinking of Centaur?
No. I was just as happy to travel by ship.
As a matter of fact at Morotai there was a little Japanese hospital ship that had been captured because all the patients were soldiers bandaged up. Tiny little thing it was, so that was a good thing to see. They'd got their own back but no I was never worried and I was never seasick. I could on the the Oranje I could walk down a passageway there with a bowl of water in my arms and everybody'd be throwing
it around all over the place and I could do a straight line and I that's what I was proud of. I was a good sailor but oh I really could do that. I loved being at sea, it was terrific.
Have you managed to pursue that at all since the war?
No the only trip I ever did by ship since then was a quick trip down to Tasmania oh about quite a
few years ago. When the Empress of Australia was on the run. I went with my friend. We drove on in her car and it was great. Had a lovely cabin and she said, "Oh wouldn't it be awful if were seasick?" and I said, "We won't be seasick. We've never been seasick.” Mm, but I'd like to have taken another trip. We try to that's got nothing to do with it so I won't say it. Yes I enjoyed being at sea.
Now the bed
the hospital on Labuan was very large. It was eighteen hundred beds or something like that
Eighteen hundred beds.
And was that full?
Yes because all these people they, they were releasing prisoners of war and they kept flying them in. Some must have gone home I take it but the rest sort of came and were landed there and they'd bring them to the hospital and as more and more came they just put up another tent and more stretchers and there we are.
Can you tell me about your first experiences with POWs?
Yes I we I used to go around in the evening and to get blood from some of them for they had to have you know transfusions and you'd just sort of go in and see them and the one I remembered most was like like a, just a bag of bones laying there. The bones were there
and a skull. He weighed three stone when he came to the hospital. Very sick and when I saw him again he was in another ward and six stone. He looked like somebody.
How did you treat people who were significantly malnutritioned?
Oh well we had to you know give them everything we could. As I said I was working in the blood bank but we also had
some patients in there and there was bread and Vegemite and all those things so they could snack away but some of them of course had had a horrible experience had had, of course they'd had a horrible experience in a POW camp, but they used to pinch everything you know. You'd go away for half an hour and come back and all the bread'd be gone. Somebody would have snuck it away in their little bag or whatever. Poor things. I mean they really were in a terrible plight and I often think
how did they get on when they went home? They hadn't seen their family for what three or four years and some of them would be so it would have been such a difficult transition for them to go home and be human after being treated the way they were.
What impressed you about them?
Well some of them were still you know still upright and they were and could talk and you know talk quite calmly about the whole thing yeah. They were terrific but they came some of them just in lap laps and they had no clothes and I suppose they must have been dying to write a letter home perhaps someone had advised home. I don't know. I can't tell you.
And were most visibly traumatised?
Oh some of them were, yes. Yeah. Some of them were.
Did you have any training in how to treat that?
No there was we always had a pscyh ward but no nothing. I remember one patient when you didn't have to go to be a prisoner of war to be a bit off the beam. I remember up in the Tablelands we had one patient who would go around at night with his little torch doing a round. You'd see a pair of eyes staring at you
and I'd go up and say, "Are you alright?" and he'd say, "Sometimes I feel like killing somebody." So I said, "Oh I'll make you a cup of tea." That's my training. Made him a cup of tea and he didn't kill anybody .
Was it an important element of the treatment for the POWs to be simply spending some time with them?
Well they had to, some of them had to stay and be sort of, they couldn't all come home together. Some of them needed some really good attention
before they went home but they probably a lot of them went into another hospital in Australia when they got back. The ones that came to us were all flown in but it must have been busy out at the little airport.
Was it very challenging for you to be able to sit down and I suppose indulge in small talk with people who'd been through such a difficult time?
No, we didn't have any time for small talk I'm afraid. One nice little fellow used to come and talk to me.
He didn't seem to have a great deal wrong with him. Just wanted someone to chat with. You'd be busy and listening at the same time.
You also received quite a few civilian internees?
Oh a lot of civilians yes. They weren't all in hospital of course but there was a special civilian camp out at, oh a bit further out somewhere or other. I'm not quite sure. I did go there once and a lot of children there. The
2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion made a milk bar for the kiddies and they had a playground.
Were they prisoners of the Australian troops or they were rescued prisoners of the Japanese?
They were rescued prisoners but some of them were German and they'd been taken prisoner when Germany had to pop out of the war the Germans were then taken prisoner, which sounded so strange. I couldn't believe it.
So you obviously weren't interacting with them
though, with those POWs?
Oh no. No. You might say "Hello" to some of them as they passed through. Dutch nuns, Dutch soldiers, they'd all be in prison. English, Scottish, all sorts of people.
Do you remember anything any conversations with any of them?
I remember reading about the Dutch nuns? Did you…
No one of them. I met a Dutch soldier but their clothing, poor things, they'd been
in prison for all that time and all their you know their collars and their veils and their uniforms were either threadbare or not there at all so you'd see them walking around in a khaki dress but they still had their collars on and an army hat on top of the whole lot.
Was there a young girl Audrey that you had….
Oh little Audrey, yes. Little Audrey was a, she'd been there during the battle and she'd
been, I think she'd been wounded in the leg. She'd been shot and there was she was with, nobody seemed to want to claim her so she was in the hospital so everybody called her little Audrey because little Audrey had (UNCLEAR) dandruff and they did so much for her. They loved her. Everybody loved her. She was only about six I would think, but dreadful I don't know what happened to her parents and then
we went over to Brunei for a quick trip one day. I only went over once and went to this little Chinese restaurant of corrugated iron and the father said would I come out and have a look at the little girl. She must have been about three and she had the most dreadful attack of malaria. I didn't have anything for her so I told them when I got back to see if they'd send something
over for her. She was just a tiny little thing. Dreadful. Malaria's a terrible thing.
Interviewee: Peggy Mason Archive ID 0041 Tape 06
We were just talking about, yes, malaria and if you could describe to me the symptoms and what you'd encounter when you saw it and the way in which you treated it.
Well let's look at it this way. I mean on the Tablelands just about every patient that came in they'd probably all been to New Guinea and it didn't matter what they came in with. I mean they might have pneumonia or a broken leg or something else, appendix out, and they were
also seemed to always have an attack of malaria as well. I said to a patient one morning, I was doing 6am temps [temperatures], "How are you this morning?" and he said, "I don't feel so well today, nurse." and I took his temperature and it was a hundred and six, which was very high in those days. I mean it's different readings today but then they get so cold and you cover them up with lots of blankets and then they sweat and like mad and as soon as
they finished sweating you'd go and sponge them off and change all the clothes and bedding and they probably would have been on Atebrin at that stage. I took Atebrin for some time.
Is that a tablet?
Yeah it was a tablet. There was another treatment too but I can't remember the name of that but that's all you, I mean once you had
malaria the thing was to try and not get it. Though I did see feel so sorry for the poor things. As I said it didn't matter how sick they were with something else they the added burden of an attack of malaria.
And what preventative methods did you have? Would you have mosquito netting 'round your bed?
Oh yes I had a mosquito net around my bed. We even had mosquito nets on the Tablelands because there was mosquitoes were of absolutely
plague proportions sometimes, but not because of malaria, there was no malaria there, but they'd picked it up probably in New Guinea. We had nets like, oh sort of green and like a canopy and nets sleeves down and nets up at six o'clock and you sprayed the place with a little
bomb. Fortunately I didn't have malaria. I thought I might have had it when I came home but we had something else but it was a very unpleasant thing. I think people still get it these days I mean you know even if they haven't had it for ages they'll suddenly get an attack. It was very hard on… you know they already had
other things to worry about. Debilitating was the word I was looking for.
Can you tell me about beri beri?
Beri beri? Well we only you know. these poor prisoners of war that came in. You'd see skinny legs and a great big stomach and
I suppose Vitamin B. When we took Vitamin B that's another thing. When we were in Labuan there they had a plate on the table with Vitamin B and salt tablets and Atebrin and you took those every day but I suppose it'd take some time to get over the beri beri because you know they would have not just been a stomach like this and skinny legs and everything else but would have had other
results too, be hard to get back on your feet after that I'm sure but our patients were transferred so quickly sometimes you didn't know what to do.
What about cholera? Is that something you had to….
Cholera, no. We had cholera injections but I don't ever remember a case of cholera in the hospital, no. No. I don't remember much in the way of infectious things.
Probably a an isolation ward there anyway but I remember rooming with someone who had diphtheria, scarlet fever I beg your pardon, and then someone else had it when we went down to Goulburn. Today it's treatable so that's okay but there was always a special VD [Venereal Disease] ward but I didn't work in that anyway.
Threw me off there. I got thinking about venereal disease and it was
Oh I'm sorry.
all over. Hygiene must have been a massive issue for you as orderlies?
Oh well no, actually it was really good. I mean you had to sort of be very careful in the tropics
for all the things you might pick up but you couldn't drink water that wasn't, it had to be treated before you could drink it. Of course that made the tea look a sort of purple colour and made your hair go a bit strange. Fortunately there was plenty of water at Labuan but as I told you it was very scarce at
Morotai. Very scarce indeed but it rained a lot at Labuan. You could see the water coming up.
Were there wooden floorboards put down in the tent?
Just on mud?
Mud. We had a little mat a little woven mat in our tent but the rest of it'd be just on the ground.
Must have been extraordinary to work in a place like that after
Oh I hadn't been there for years.
And at the 2/6th had built a new site there and they had concrete you know the tents were over concrete but the mud was pretty thick at up there. See one of the COs marching along and he had great big feet and he marched, the mud sort of collected on them. Instead of being about this big they he could hardly lift his feet up as he went. I shouldn't talk about that,
should I? But it was very muddy. Rained a lot on the Atherton Tablelands, mm, but anyway they were so short of Morotai I think because there were so many troops there. American big American airport. Absolutely enormous.
How long were you in Morotai and what was your role there?
I can't remember how long we were in Morotai. We were staging there waiting to go on. Waiting for it to be cleaned up over where we were going. I can't remember. Might have been there for a month.
There was a lot of different divisions and departments all waiting to go into the islands once they'd been cleared into Borneo once those the operations had gone ahead
Yes, that's right but we didn't know about lots of things. I mean
we heard about the death march [Sandakan] because somebody's brother and someone's husband I said you had to leave when you were married but Edna was married and her husband had been a POW so she was allowed to come along. I remember when they came and told her that he'd died on the death march and Cynthia, another lass, her brother had been,
he was only a kid, about twenty, he'd been killed and Betty's fiancé had been beheaded so they were really you know they terrible times. Betty used to pull all the, we had Japanese patients in too, she used to pull all their drips out so they had to move her to another ward. Someone said the other day they'd never felt the same
about Japanese since the war.
You can relate to that?
Oh no, I've met such lovely girls. When I've been you know went we drove up to Cairns at one stage and all these girls there. If they were on a trip that you went on they would all congregate 'round the old ladies. It's a funny thing isn't it? They were sweet girls. Can't blame them I suppose, I mean after all they weren't even born.
So the Japanese atrocities that you were hearing about were beyond rumour and they were actually occurring to
Oh they were but
People close to you.
We didn't know about just how bad it was until we did our return trip to Borneo. In 1995 I think it was. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the battle there and Jackie Sue, Jack Sue [Jack Wong Sue – former member of Services Reconnaissance Department] was with us and he told us all about the…. everything as we went through
different places but they were so cruel. I mean they had had a…. they'd burnt all these Indians' feet and had their heads in a in a tin thing. I mean they were just cruel and terrible oh but it was so, I think you know it sounded so much worse when we heard about it then than it did when we were actually there because we were so busy working
but no, fancy being putting them in a fire and burning their feet and I think it was another tin thing full of heads and they were cruel. I had Captain McCarter there as a patient. He had a Korean batman
and I've forgotten when I was going oh he tried to commit suic… hari kari with a with a hospital knife. You could hardly cut butter with it, let alone anything else.
Sorry what was the relationship? A Korean batman. What was that and who was the captain?
Oh the Koreans were…. oh he was an officer. Mr Lieutenant McCarter so he had a batman but the Koreans were also
they were siding with the Japanese through the war too but he was a Christian he so he told us and he used to sing hymns but I don't know what happened to them.
So how many Japanese patients were there in the hospital?
Look I don't know. I was stuck away in the blood bank and I mean I wandered around all over the place getting blood but I really couldn't
tell you but you would see some and then you'd see them marching along you know in the street. There was no street, what am I talking about? Outside they'd be marching along with their little sergeant behind them and he'd make them bow to us and then kick them in the backside and off they'd go again. Must have been pretty cruel to each too I think.
So they were under constant guard I imagine.
they knew it was all over but they were starting court, what's the Australian fellow and he was doing the he was
The war crimes.
Yes they'd started that up but he was doing the…. he could speak Japanese so he was able to you know sort of say it
in English as well. Went to one of those with my sister-in-law. We just went along and we hadn't got really working then. They got onto the war crimes thing very quickly.
Did you know anyone who was having to treat the Japanese POWs?
Yes that's what I say one of them, Betty her name was, and her fiancé had
been beheaded on Balak… Balikpapan and she used to pull out their drips and things so they had to move her out 'cause we didn't want to be the same as the Japanese I suppose.
Did you speak to any of the doctors or any anyone else who struggled morally with helping these people who had caused such horror?
No. Look I think everybody was so busy. We worked so hard. We didn't have time to I don't know what they really thought but they did treat
everybody, I think you treated them as well as they could but you know very hard to think back and I'm right back there after awhile the natives started to plant their paddy fields again see with their water buffalo, putting in rice, and the water buffalo'd be the same colour as the soil.
So would whoever was doing it and they'd sort of dragged up things that they'd had hidden. Try and sell them to you.
Was did you have any contact beyond a bit of bartering?
Yes well Joyce, one of my tent mates, my artist one, my artist friend, got to know one of the Chinese boys
and he took us over to Rancha Rancha to his wife's for lunch and of course the CO heard we were going over in a prow and nearly had a fit so we had to wait until he'd found he'd found a something more suitable to go over in. We went over there and we sat down. We only saw mother once and she rushed out and grabbed a chook running 'round, pulled out its feathers, we saw that, and cooked it up. We had a beautiful lunch. Rice
with fresh eggs in it and her husband chatted away to us but she was right in the kitchen and they played the gramophone 'Chinese war go' 'Chinese girl going to war.' Yeah that was very funny and on the way over of course everywhere we went everybody stopped and we must have this lovely drink and it was a Lady Blamey with condensed milk and hot water.
Horrible but you'd have to drink it and in case you don't know what a Lady Blamey is, it's a bottle, a beer bottle with a top off and there we are. It's a beautiful drinking vessel.
You mentioned the native locals were the same colour as their buffalo and the same colour as the soil?
That's right. They were in the in the paddy field with water and planting.
They were obviously very integrated with the environment there. Did you feel a part of the jungle there or did you feel quite detached from that?
Oh no look we were quite detached from it. Actually we didn't see, there wasn't a lot of jungle, there'd been a battle there and there wasn't much in the way of trees standing but, no, the climate was you know terrible and our clothing wasn't well when you think about it was really thick. Thick
pants with buckles and buttons and things with buckles and I mean you were so hot. After you'd been there for awhile you didn't drink so much water and you had salt tablets and then you didn't perspire as much but you'd just see someone who'd just arrived because they'd be in a bundle of sweat but no, I really wouldn't have wanted to stay there.
It wasn't a beautiful place to you.
Well it could have been at some stage. When we went back
they were building up the town the and lots of the little shacks and things that people lived in had kerosene tins with bougainvillea growing in them just sort of around their little shacks and some of them I think some of them still lived out in the water. They have these houses that have they call them something and I can't remember what
and especially in Brunei they were all living there still and they were still living in those things when we went over on the return trip. They're houses on sticks and when the water comes in they're right over it but they told me in Brunei when we went back that public servants live there and they have washing machines and television sets and you think it'd all go through the floor
but the natives as I said most of them were living out at Rancha Rancha because of the battle that had been there. Some of the fellows still chewed betel nut and that wasn't when that was when we went back, but no I wouldn't have liked to have lived there but it was great to go back to they had a beautiful hotel built and
beautiful meals and when we went over to Brunei we got into a lot of trouble with meals there. They had another beautiful hotel but we just sort of wandered in and sat down. First of all they charged they were charging us up for all sorts of things that we didn't ever have but nobody came to tell us it was a buffet and we could go into the other part and have something else but anyway I do remember
that dear lady who went out and caught the chook and cooked it for our lunch and it was beautiful.
That's a nice cross-cultural experience.
That's right. Certainly better than what we were getting.
What were you getting?
Oh our best meal was M and V. Meat and vegetables. Tinned and the cooks used to make that into a rather good curry but I can't remember what we ever had for breakfast.
Oh there was always scrambled egg, but that was powdered egg, and you know it got to make lovely sandwiches but then we didn't have any bread for some time. We just had dog biscuits but the old scrambled egg they with tomato sauce made a good sandwich. I can't even remember what we had for lunch but sometimes you'd have dehydrated vegetables. Potato and cabbage white and another famous meal was
with whitebait. You know those tiny little white fish. White cabbage and dehydrated potato. All white. Pretty horrible but all the best food was for the patients of course. They had to be fed. Fed well. It was just funny the way they came and they went. We had another, my tent mate and I went out to
a rest camp for a couple of days and something must have happened. Some of them were going home and they were all down, whoever was looking after the place downed tools and went. We were there alone so we had a ride in an ambulance and went back to the unit and we got into trouble for coming back. We were trying to explain, "But there's nobody there, only us." It was a bit weird.
With so many people passing through the hospital, did you have an opportunity to develop any….
closer friendships or was it too transient?
No. Well you you'd know that you wouldn't see them again possibly. Might by some miracle you might see them but
But even in the short time while they were there did you form some important bonds to you?
Well there used to be this young fellow that used to come and talk liked someone to talk to, talk to us but
I don't know where he lived at all. They were from all over Australia and as I said not only Australians but British and Scottish and all sorts of people.
Do you remember what camp he'd been in?
I think he'd been at Changi. I'm pretty sure he'd been at Changi.
So you were getting people from Singapore, Borneo, Malayan Peninsula.
When the blood bank was just opening up we had a fellow rushed in and he said, "Oh I've just flown over Kuching and I just know that there are Australians there." We didn't know whether there were or not but he was so excited he had to tell we must have been the first tent he passed you know the first thing but he was right. A lot of people there.
When we went on this return trip Jackie Sue had been a belonged to the Z detachment [Z Special Force – or more accurately, Services Reconnaissance Department] and he was of Chinese origin but he was Australian/Chinese and he dressed as a Chinese coolie and went in to get information from the station master at one place and the station master
said, "I can I can just summon someone right now and you'll be dead." and he said. "If I'm not back within a certain amount of time your wife and children'll be dead too." so he gave him the information needed about the number of Japanese that were there and Jack kept went on his way but he was a real hero, Jack Sue.
Was a patient?
No. Well he was
a patient in Morotai but not in our hospital, no.
You encountered him on the trip back?
No I encountered Jack when I went back to Borneo, but he was in hospital in Morotai when we were there. My sister-in-law went to oh one of the our old hospital ship people had been with the 2/5th and Joan went with Norma to talk to him but
he's still alive. He's just written a book. I've just finished reading it actually called, 'Blood over Borneo' 'Blood on Borneo' and Alan Jones [radio broadcaster] was talking about it on the wireless the other day and he sent it to Joan. When I went over I had a film about the, a video about the trip back, the return trip, and I paid for it and it never came but
when I went over to see my daughter we went up to Midlands to see Jack. He had Western Australia Diving and Jack gave me a couple. One for somebody else who paid money as well but he was terrific. You know he was a real hero. One of ….you don't meet that many.
Do you think he struggled being of Asian
Yes well as I said he was he's truly Australian and I think his wife is Australian. All his children are sort of, sort of they're mixed blood and they were lovely. He took his son about thirteen with him when we went. Lovely kid. He videoed everything and it was really good but Jack told us that he went wanted to join the
air force I think it was and they wouldn't have him because his parents were Chinese and had been born in China. So he joined the, he was about sixteen I think at this stage. Sixteen, seventeen, he joined the merchant navy and sort of sailed around for some time. Then he came ashore and he thought he was going to have another go at enlisting and that might have been when he joined the air force. I'm not quite sure
but he volunteered for this Z detachment and they you know they were terrible. Really the things they did were so extraordinary. One of our girls' brothers was with the Z detachment. I don't know where he was but when they had the march down at the beach here a couple of Sundays ago I saw one of the fellows get off the bus with his Z and I spoke to him because I said I've just finished reading
Jack's book and he said they were having a big conference sort of wouldn't be too many left in Sydney in a few weeks' time but they were outstanding people. I only went and I did what I did but I mean there were true heroes, which you probably never hear about.
Excuse me while I just refer to my notes.
When you were in Labuan, what was the mood of the camp? Was it victorious or was it….
Oh everybody was glad when the war was over. Everybody cheered. Absolutely marvellous.
What about before the end of the war when you'd first arrived. The camp had been overrun but the Japanese were by no means over.
The war didn't seem to be coming to an abrupt end.
What was the mood in the camp?
I think everybody just wanted to get on with it. Get on with the job and as I say I don't remember anybody saying, "I want to go home." I mean you wanted to go. Looked forward to some decent
food. Bit hard to get used to a bed, a soft bed.
Did you ever have problems maintaining a positive attitude or keeping away more depressive elements?
No. No sometimes you'd get a bit blue but mostly because everybody else was cheerful. As long as everyone's cheerful it's fine. It's only if everybody gets a bit browned off that you know
you feel a bit funny.
Was there someone or something that could always cheer you up when you were feeling a bit blue?
Oh yes, my tent mates. They were great and other people around us too. We had three to a tent and we supported each other and so did everybody. Some people you didn't ever get to know. It's like that everywhere isn't it?
Were the padres an important part of that sort of thing?
Yes well we had a Catholic padre and a Church of England but everybody always took their letters to be censored by Father Bourke I think it was. Father Bourke, yes that's right. When we came back when we all went down and had a Chinese meal with Father Bourke. I'm not
a Catholic but and neither were the others but he was great. He was going to a seminary in Western Australia. Must have been quite a different life after being in the army but I can't remember the…. well we had a second Church of England padre came and the other one went and he was one of the boys.
Was religious faith
an important coping mechanism for a lot of people?
Oh yes. I went to church occasionally but, not for me. I mean not to the same extent. I'm not trying to tell you I was a heathen or anything like that but I didn't go out of my way. On the hospital ship you always had Sundays church on Sunday in the lounge room. I went to that
because I unless we had patients on board, you'd be working, but it was quite really quite something when you know the ship's going up and down and one minute you can see the water. Next minute you've gone that way. They're just singing ‘for those in peril on the sea’ you know it makes you think. Not that I ever thought we were in peril.
Was a faith in God important to you even if you didn't go to church all that often? Was your belief in him important
and to cope and deal with the….
I should say "Yes" but I must say no. No. I'm a Christian and I believe in everything but I didn't have to go to church. My sister-in-law is a very good churchgoer. She still goes to church and does all the right things. There's no use saying I was, because I wasn't.
And none of your experiences
caused you to question your innate faith?
Oh maybe. Sometimes. Perhaps. Does make you wonder doesn't it? But it's no good no use doing that. You've got to think positively.
Did you have any particular rituals surrounding
death either of friends or patients?
Oh look nobody ever died when I was there. They all died after I left or before I came on. Isn't it awful? There's only one person I remember and that was just on the Tablelands had, oh you know accidents with bombs and things and he'd been very badly hurt. When I came he'd just died and he'd gone so I can't tell you but I just washed his clothes and when his mates came to
see about him I just told them I've washed his clothes and they were wet and I found some newspaper to put around them. Newspaper? Couldn't have been newspaper. No plastic in those days but it's true. Nobody ever died when I was there. Even my husband. Walked out of the room and he waited to die too
oh he just died at….
It was a very macho environment that you must have been surrounded by with all the army
All the fellows?
And the war scenario. Did you feel that that machoness[?] rub off on you at all?
No. No. No we were still ourselves. We still wore dresses
except when we went to Borneo. We wore those pants and things and boots and gaiters and socks. It'd take you half an hour to get dressed. Slouch hat. That's all I've got left, a slouch hat. No. Not really. I suppose it sounds ridiculous to you but we were always treated well. The troops tried hard never to swear in front of us.
Some of them I think could swear just as well but no, we were treated well. I can't say I ever felt uncomfortable about anything. Course perhaps you go around with your you know, my head in the clouds and don't notice as many things as you probably should.
Were there significant changes to your personality that you recognised once you got back?
I didn't recognise oh yes
when we got back. Yes. I went and asked for my old job back and I couldn't stand it. I just couldn't, just couldn't bear it. Went and looked for another job but yes, you're certainly not the person you were say five years before or nearly five years before.
What do you think those main changes were?
Well I suppose I'd grown up. I was as green as grass when I went in at twenty one. I mean we were
never allowed to do anything you I wasn't allowed to go to all these dances that everybody else went to. I wasn't allowed to do this and I wasn't allowed to do that so into the army I went. A lot of us were as green as grass too but we all came through alright but no, we'd grown up and what we saw I suppose made you grow up in the first place. From twenty one to twenty five.
Big difference when you think about it.
Were you more confident in yourself or more forceful?
Oh I think so yes. I remember going back to work and as I said I hadn't done any shorthand or typing in many a long time and the chief clerk asked me to come and do some dictation and I thought he was talking about Mrs somebody or other. Typed it all out and he started to have a go and me and said,
"It's Messers" and I said, "How would I know? I haven't been here." I mean I'd never have even have spoken back to him years ago but I thought, "This is enough for me. I'm going." So I went. I really had an argument with the stupid man. Silly old goat. He hadn't changed, I had.
Interviewee: Peggy Mason Archive ID 0041 Tape 07
School…. if you could have done anything in the world what would it have been at that stage?
Well I wanted to do nursing. I wanted to stay at school but as I said the repat were supporting me because my father was dead and they made me leave school. They said I'd be too old if I didn't. Too old to get a job so I went off to business college, paid for by the repat, and
against my will I learned to do shorthand and typing. Some bookkeeping I suppose but then I got a job with War Service Homes 'cause everybody was out of work. All the girls used to be sitting 'round the little waiting room at the business college waiting for a job but because my stepfather knew someone I got a job pretty well straight away and they were a nice crowd of people there.
There weren't too many options for young women at that stage in terms of career choice?
No. I think probably what I was doing, working in a shop, nursing or school teaching. That's about it.
And the nursing cost money up front to be able to….
I don't know.
do your nursing training?
I don't know. My mother said I couldn't do it and you did as you were told until you were twenty one in those days
you know you couldn't sort of do much and I said, "Right when I'm twenty one I'll go and do my training." but I was enlisted then and didn't do it. When I came out it was too late. We were all too tired.
So the war obviously was a benefit to you directly in terms of getting to do what you wanted with your work.
Doing nursing but obviously for women in general in Australian society they were given more opportunities in the workplace and in civic life as a result
of the war?
I suppose so because women did you know the ones that in the army they drove trucks and did repairs to motors and I was reading about the WAAAF [Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force], which I knew little about, and according to someone they'd been speaking to, the WAAAF single-handedly did all the repairs and all the ciphering and just about anything that would keep the planes flying so
they did a terrific job. They all did. Everybody did. Of course if you meet the [Australian Women’s] Land Army they'll tell you that they also did a terrific job. At least they got something to eat but you know it was all good experience really for everybody but I think the war did although it said in this thing I was reading about the WAAAF that when they came into civilian life everybody said, "Oh no all the men are coming back now so you can't have those jobs."
so it really didn't do a great deal for them I suppose.
So there was you didn't come back and see a major shift in the role of women in society. Was there an awkward period of
Oh I think
readjustment in terms of gender roles?
Well I think there could have been I'm sure because you know women had been in those days the old trams with that are on the outside you know, running board alongside and the conductor was always out there and women did that sort of thing apart from everything else, looked pretty
horrible to me, but I suppose from then on perhaps the there was a change but you stayed at home with the children in those days anyway if you were married and you had children. You didn't try and pass them onto somebody else.
Would you have preferred to have been a wife and mother or been a working woman?
No I couldn't see what I
what I would work at being married, oh my husband had a small business going and of course I answered the phone and kept the books and all sorts of things for it. That was later on but and I played a lot of golf. I'm still out golfing with a couple of friends so we used to go sometimes three days a week. Get the children off to school and rush off to the golf links and try and get home before
they got home from school. Quickly make the beds and wash up and off you'd go. I enjoyed that. I tried tennis again but I hadn't played tennis for years.
How much did your friends and family at home ask or want to know about your experiences?
Well sometimes I don't think they wanted to know a lot. If they ask you never got to tell them. One of my friends he'd been married
and had three children by the time I came back. My mother had given all my clothes to her 'cause you know coupons were hard to come by, and my dolls and my books and she said what a lovely time I'd been having you see and it was a dreadful thing that her children couldn't have any prunes and rice because they'd all gone to the troops. I said, "If I'd have known I'd have sent mine back." but no they were sort of interested but they'd been getting on with their own lives.
I think it must have been fairly difficult with all a place full of other troops and things. I don't know but you know people ask you and as soon as you start to tell them they either did the same thing themselves or they'd think of something else.
How did you go about finding…. did you care or did you make an effort to discover what had been going on how life had been different while you were away?
Oh yes I
suppose we found out how to ask them and it was still much the same when you came back but of course a lot of troops had been back for awhile before we came home but oh they had black outs and you know and places were blacked out and they just made do with their coupons. I think my mother's always tried to get some more coupons for the butcher,
meat coupons or some more meat without coupons, 'cause my stepfather was a pretty good meat eater and then I came home and of course I'd taken up smoking and you had to get a you know, put your order in for cigarettes into a certain place and I put it into the local greengrocer and the wretched woman there she used to give me something called three threes. You only got nine cigarettes to a packet, little packet, so I didn't do very well there and my friend Gwynne put her
ration in at David Jones. She didn't smoke but she had a ration just the same so I was sorry I hadn't done that too. It took a long time for cigarettes to come back on the market and then at one stage petrol was also terribly scarce and then I think it must have been the Liberal Government promised to get petrol if they got in and they did and they
bought petrol from France I think it was so everybody was able to drive around again. We didn't have a car so we didn't need petrol. I mean my mother and stepfather.
You'd taken up smoking, but how was your health in general when you returned?
It was good. I was thin. We were all thin I think but no I'd never been sick. Had the odd thing wrong I suppose but no.
I was tired and thin and looking forward to things like lettuce. Isn't that ridiculous? That you'd look forward to a lettuce, tomato, something raw. We had, in Labuan we had a mango tree growing close by but they all fell on the ground and became full of grubs so no
fruit. As I said yesterday someone bought us that great big bunch of bananas, big, oh I'll call it a bunch 'cause I can't think what else to call it. All the bats wanted to eat it before we got them but there was very little fruit. No meat but back to after the war it took a long time for things to come back
on the market and we were given a few coupons for clothing but Gwynne and I spent half our life in town trying to get something to wear. To get a pair of shoes. Set of boots. Took ages to just to get a bit of a wardrobe together.
With everything having changed so much while you were away so much within yourself having changed. The things like coming
back and finding all your clothes and this part of your identity gone
That's right, yeah.
Were the friends you made in the war then really very important in terms of….
Oh yes we used to meet all the time. Every Friday night at the Hotel Australia we'd all meet. It sounds as if we're drinkers but perhaps one or two might have been but you could always go in there and have a little drink and sit there and talk for hours but until everybody got married
we were meet meeting all the time. I mean they were just like your family. You'd been with them for so long you didn't want to be without them.
Were there a lot of people getting married?
When people got back. Was there a sort of a rush of it going on?
Mm not really. My sister-in-law was married about a year before I was I think and I was her bridesmaid and then Gwynne was my bridesmaid. Just thinking of
all the other weddings. Isn't it funny? Some people came from the country and oh look I can't really sort of fathom out all the weddings but people got married and had children and that slows you down a bit. You can't go out and meet anybody on Friday night. You're too busy with a tribe of children.
You mentioned also that a lot of people underestimated how difficult your
time away had been. They'd thought that you'd had a good time and that they'd been
giving up their food for you. Were you were you upset at all by this?
No I thought it was very amusing. I thought it was very funny to say things like that. That's my trouble, I used to laugh at anything but you know absolutely ridiculous, mm.
Was it disappointing for you maybe that you that what you'd been through you hadn't been represented whether that was in politics or the media
No. Didn't worry me
but it is funny that as I said everybody at home must have had a fairly rough time too trying to get things to carry on with and so probably having such a hard time, I know my mother was I suppose she was proud of me 'cause all the hospital ship mothers used to meet once a week and I think they kept it up all through the war and she got a little badge with a little dot in it
because I was away but she probably talked about me all the time but when you come home you know it's sort of different. You could hardly wait to get home then I opened up all the windows and then by the time it's nine o'clock they've closed the windows in case the sun comes in. That was me running around opening the windows 'cause I couldn't stand it after living in a tent and my mum running around closing them again.
I'm still a fresh air fiend. I have everything open unless it's blowing a too much of a gale.
Do you have any other significant habitual changes that you struggled with? Didn't want to go out and eat your dinner in the dirt or….
No we always sat at a table. We had planky tables and no we didn't it wasn't as bad as that. The girls always did their best, the mess people did their best to make it look reasonable.
Didn't have tablecloths or anything like that but we had food and then you rush off to feed the patients.
Did you feel claustrophobic overall? Having been back and being trapped in that old life after having lived such an adventure?
Yes yes I did. Mm. I threw in the job I had before and I went and worked for a doctor for 'til I got married in Macquarie Street. I didn't get married in
Macquarie Street I mean I went to work for a doctor there and that was a little better but no it just doesn't seem right. It takes awhile to get yourself together.
And how could you go back to an office after having got your what was originally your dream of nursing?
I don't know. I mean I just had to do something to get some money. You can't just sit around waiting for money to come in.
Was there an excess of nurses?
I don't know. Can't tell you. Probably not because they'd been very short during the war. Probably the hospitals were probably glad to see them all back but I wasn't a trained nurse so you know there was no point. I had thought of going to do my training but as I said before we were all so exhausted and thin from being up there in the tropics but it'd be lovely to live in the tropics if it was you know in a civilised time. It'd be very good
but when everything's sort of wrecked and you're working hard and different times.
Can you tell me then about meeting John?
Oh yes well I met John once we came down from the Tablelands on leave I met him. I'd gone into Choys, which is a menswear shop in George Street to buy a hat 'cause my hat was falling to pieces and Joan looked out the window and said, "Oh there's John." and rushed out and then we all
he came in and then we met John and said, "How do you do?" but I was interested in somebody else at that stage but when we came back we'd we somehow got together again and as I said I was wanting to go to England. One of our girls wanted to go to America with her because she was going to be Sister [Elizabeth] Kenny. You wouldn't know Sister Kenny either, she was a marvellous nursing sister who had a marvellous treatment for poliomyelitis,
infantile paralysis they called it, but she had this wonderful treatment and she was doing it in America. Jean wanted me to go to America but I wanted to go to England but instead of that I got married. Didn't go anywhere for many years.
Did you regret not having travelled more?
Yes I'd like to, I'd still like to travel. When I sold my house I you know, a couple of good travels.
The last one I was went to was Norfolk Island. It's a lovely place. I don't mind going there. I wouldn't mind going more often even but I enjoyed going to England and the continent. I enjoyed going to America and Canada. It was great.
What was it about England that captured your imagination?
Well look I think most people in those days had someone from England
and there were lots of their parents and relatives called it home. They were going home and when they were going to go home they'd written home but England was the place to go. It really was. So I didn't get there for another probably forty years but I got there just the same.
Would it have been unusual for a young woman to have taken off to England?
Oh no a lot of people were travelling
you know sort of throwing in their jobs here and rushing off to England. They were able to get good jobs too. My daughter, this is later on, she stopped working at the Children's Hospital and she went off to England and the continent and everywhere. She went twice and the first time after she'd been to the continent she came back and she had a job with three
fellows from the oil rig up in near the near the Shetland Islands there. She worked there for quite awhile. They were very good to her too. I think she flew up once to the Shetlands and when she went back next time she was working for somebody else altogether but she could always pick up a job and she'd been working in pathology and that isn't what she did while she was away
but everybody wanted to go to England. Anyway I thank goodness I got there before I was too old. I wasn't too young either but still. Never mind.
And did it fulfil your expectations?
Yes it did. I would like to have been there longer. We stayed about six weeks I suppose but we went on an organised tour and I wish we'd arranged to stay a bit longer without the tour because we didn't see everything we wanted
to see. You'd have to be there for ages. We didn't do too badly but my friend Gwynne was living there then. She took us out a couple of times. She took us to some terrific restaurant down near the near the Thames [River]. It's off the Thames. There's a little church and a mill and a waterfall there and all the film stars and famous people go there to dine.
We had a gorgeous lunch there and it was really a gorgeous place but in the distance on the it must have been on the river there were all these boats like they have down at The Spit. I mean I really hadn't thought of England having ships like that boats like that at all so it would have been a lot of money with all those lovely boats but no, we had a great time, mm. I didn't ever get to see my
Joan's relatives but she's been over two or three times and she always goes to see rellies [relatives]. I didn't have any I suppose but I do like travelling.
Speaking of relatives, did you feel after your return and discharge from the army that your war time experience had helped create a bit of closure on you with your feelings for you towards your father? Did it
bring you closer to him?
regarded my father as a hero because as I say I didn't even know him but to me he was a hero and still is, because I you know if he went he went to lots of places like Gallipoli and France. He's certainly a hero.
Did you think that he would have been proud?
Well I think he might have been, yes but who knows? Maybe he would have said,
"Don't go." Nobody said that to me because I just went anyway.
I believe you were discharged, was it February '46?
About February yeah.
Was discharging a significant event or was it
No we'd been back in civvie [civilian] clothes and I've forgotten how much leave we had. It might have been the end of January even. I suppose I could look it up in my pay book if I could find it
but it was something like that. We weren't discharged for awhile.
How long after that was it before John asked you to marry him?
Well we were going to get married in '46 I think, '47, and we decided to leave it a bit longer and I said, "Yes" anyway.
Did you say "Yes" straight off or did you have a difficult choice?
Oh no I didn't have a difficult choice, no. No. My mother was very fond of him too so that always says something doesn't it?
And they managed to have a nice relationship for some years did they?
Yes, he's been dead for twenty three years, which is a long time.
And did he get on well with your stepfather as well?
So you definitely felt like you'd grown up and
Yeah and the children my stepfather enjoyed the children too, which was good but they loved my mother. They still talk about my mother. All my friends talk about my mother. Said, "Oh wasn't she lovely? We can never forget her you know, she was such a lovely lady." I don't think anybody's going to
say that about me but she really was, she was a real sweetheart. An absolute lovely person but as I said it's funny when you come out you're dying to see them and they're dying to see you but then they say, "Oh look we've got to listen to the wireless.” and that. “We've got we've got to listen to Firstlight Fraser." or something or other. They've just asked you some something about what you did and you've opened your mouth to say it so you never get really to say anything much
but it was a happy time to be home, I think. Missed a lot of people that I knew. Another tent mate from the Tablelands went to live in Melbourne and I used to go and see her sometimes. Go down and see her and she her husband died oh some years ago and then Ida followed up quickly but her son came up on Anzac Day
from Melbourne just for the day to join us so it was just lovely to see him. It's like a also a friend of one of (UNCLEAR) come I invite her to Anzac Day every year and she rang me today to say that how nice of me to invite her and I said, "Well you you're one of the family." which she is, and she enjoyed herself and one year she came and it's a bit noisy at Sydney
Hospital on the balcony and I mean I always have a little service where you ask somebody to welcome the visitors and someone to say the ode and someone to say something else, somebody to remember absent friends, and one year we just didn't get to it and she said, "I'm really disappointed. I think I'll go home." so I quickly asked Joan to say the ode but that's all we did and I made sure on Friday that we at least had four people speaking. I didn't even ask them if they would. I just
said, "Joan would say the ode and Gwen would you thank the ladies at the auxiliary and somebody else would you thank welcome our visitors?" and they got up and said something but it's no use asking them. They'd probably say no if you asked them beforehand. Terrible thing to do, isn't it?
So the war really gave you a family and a group of friends that you couldn't have found in any other sort of circumstance
Never. Never ever. No. Never. Never ever.
I've known some nice people since then but it's not the same. Well we had so much in common you know. We we'd been to the same places and together.
And I guess a need not to have to communicate and not to have talked about all that stuff that you couldn't talk with people?
No that's right, but it's a funny thing if you don't see them for five or ten years as soon as you see them it's just the same.
You don't say, "For heavens sake why didn't you write?" or anything. You're just so pleased to see them. It's surprising sometimes they recognise you, you know after all that time, but no lovely people. As I say there are so few of us left now. I just rang another one today. I thought, "Oh I meant to ring Hilda before Anzac Day." She just can't manage to come at all and I told her I was I'd gone to the march in a
wheelchair and she said, "Oh you're in a wheelchair." so you had to then explain no, no, you're not in a wheelchair, you went in the march in a wheelchair but no it was it of course when we got married trying to find somewhere to live was a really terrible problem. Eventually some friends were moving out of a small flat and we moved in as they moved out. We didn't ask we just
moved in. At Mosman and we stayed there and had two children there. We moved into Cromer when Diana was just a baby. I had another one there too but it was lovely having a house after living in a small flat but I sold my house because I was there by myself and I thought, "What's the use you know. Living in a four bedroom house all by yourself?"
At night I'd taken to sleeping in the back room because a lovely breeze came through and suddenly the front door banged. Oh you know I thought, "What on earth's that?" and then I remembered my neighbour was coming in. I'd left the door ajar for her and she hadn't come. I thought, "It's no great thing living by yourself." and when I came to live here I thought, "Oh I'll stay a few years." and it took me a long many years to regard it as home. I mean what's the use of living in a house
by yourself? You might as well live in something like this.
What did John do with his profession?
He used to work in his father had a furniture factory. They did curtains theatre curtains and things like that then his father retired. John didn't want to keep it going so he went to live with to work for Kirsch Blinds and then we had a business and
they did curtains and blinds and all that sort of thing, which didn't thrill me very much, but I answered the phone and did all the right things and then he was really very sick so I was very glad when he retired and just had a few years after that.
Was he as fond of his wartime experiences as you were of yours?
Well I think they had a rougher time than we did you know, flying in some of the planes they flew in. Couldn't have
been exactly rosy and he used to tell me about some of the times they they'd forget to put the petrol in the tanks and you're flying and it'd say zero on the speedo thing. Wasn't a speedo, never mind, and they lived in the Western Desert. They lived in tents there and then as I said he did two tours in the Middle East and made some good friends
but they didn't get together after the war. Isn't it funny? Some of them rang up but I think they might have been very good drinkers, something tells me and when they came back to he went to I think it was it was with he was with 159 [Squadron] in the Middle East and he joined Squadron 2 and I think they were sort of in Darwin but
did everything 'round the islands.
Was he a pilot?
No, he was a wireless air gunner.
Wireless air gunner.
He was too old. All the young ones were pilots. He did his air training in Canada, at Winnipeg. He was what would he have been? Probably twenty five.
And when he returned was his health okay?
No, his nerves were never
good. Had nightmares and he was always flying at night. Crashing. They had a couple of crashes. They crashed on the island of Socotra. It's just the entrance to the Red Sea and they crashed, oh somewhere else in Ireland I think it was. They didn't want to land at all there but they crashed and it wasn't a very happy experience but he did keep in touch
with one friend at Orange and I still go and visit them. They're lovely people. That was the only one that he really caught stayed in touch with.
So the war was very much for him something he wanted to leave in the past.
I think so.
He had quite a few traumatic experiences?
I think so yeah. Like my husband's mother
and my sister-in-law's mother of course died when Joan was only about I think eleven or twelve and their father had remarried and I don't think any of them, they'd all grown up, and they weren't too keen about having a stepmother, just like I wasn't too keen about having a stepfather I suppose. I always said, "I'll never be a stepmother. I don't care what happens. I'm never going to be a stepmother." It's cruel but
it's very you know when you're bringing up little children it's as though it'll go on forever and then all of a sudden they've grown up. They've all left school and it it's funny when you're not going to P&C [Parents and Citizens] meetings and helping with stalls and it's all over.
Was it ever difficult for you did you sense you know obviously the kids couldn't appreciate
the sacrifice and some of the harder things you'd been through. Did that ever annoy you?
No. I think they do now and you know their father too of course but Diana tells me you know, she's so emotional these days that you've only got to mention it and she's crying away. That's my elder daughter. Barbara's probably a bit tougher because she's a nurse but Jim,
yeah Jim was proud of his father but it's a shame you know, he really needed a father. He got married, I suppose he was twenty four when he was married. John said, "Oh too young." today it sounds like you know old, but it was a bit rocky their marriage and I'm sure if their father had been alive, oh it wouldn't have made any difference. It would have turned
out the same what am I saying? But his first wife was a funny girl. She loved me. I suppose I did all sorts of things for her and his second wife hated me and now he has a nice American girlfriend. She'd been in the air force in Okinawa. See
I'm telling you the family history now. I hope they never hear it but I hope he'll be happy. He does a lot of travelling. He works for Ricoh and he's just come back from New Guinea and North Queensland. He goes to Japan but he lives at Gosford and I can't be asking him to come and look at my computer all the time.
That's what I'm delighted about sometimes. People are quite impressed that I have a mobile phone and I've turned it off, a mobile phone and a computer.
Well you've always been a trailblazer, haven't you?
That's right but what else can we tell you about? Oh yes we had a lovely garden at Cromer. I like gardening.
My mother and stepfather were mad gardeners as well as being mad golfers. They were mad gardeners so I always had a beautiful garden there and we had a lovely garden at Marine Road. As a matter of fact when I sold the place I stayed there for five years after John died and I just couldn't stand I thought, "Oh way out. May as well come in where it's more it's easier
to get transport." and I enjoyed gardening. I love gardening. Don't do it now, I'm too old. Used to do the side garden here.
How did your army training prepare you for motherhood?
It didn't. Hadn't seen a child for ages oh except for a few little native children but no it didn't. Nothing prepares you for exactly what goes on but oh
dear. They were lovely little kids. They were pretty little things and you think of the little plump cheeks, somebody told me once that I was carting around one of my big fat babies and I they should be carrying me but no it was a real treat to have them really. You think, "Heavens I'll never get through." but you do, but they were lovely little things. They could be very naughty like all children
and we always had a cat and a dog and somebody had a rabbit no, a guinea pig, and budgerigars. Jim had a garden. We had chooks [chickens]. The real suburban life.
Is there anything else you wanted to mention about your war experience?
Oh quite probably but
I can't think of it at the moment. As I said, I wouldn't have missed it for anything. It was a pleasure to be looking after all these poor things that were sick just to sit in the pathology I wasn't I used to go out of the pathology and back to the ward because I enjoyed that more and blood bank was good. I quite enjoyed that
but I didn't always just be a nurse in a ward.
Okay. Might leave it there.