Women in Wartime
Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (AAMWS) (1942 – 1951)
From: December 1942 To: 1951
Occupations: Armed services organization
Dental mechanic; dispenser, laboratory assistant; radiographer; senior cook; telephonist (monitress); clerk; cook; operating theatre assistant; dental clerk; dental orderly; nursing orderly; refrigerator operator or sick quarters attendant; store-keeper Grade 1; store assistant; typist; telephonist; kitchen hand; messwoman; office orderly; waitress; ward orderly
The Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (AAMWS) was established in December 1942. At that stage it was decided to distinguish between Voluntary Aid Detachments, whose governing body was the Joint State Council in each State and the Joint Central Council (the Commonwealth authority), and Voluntary Aids who were serving at Military Hospitals on a full-time basis under Army control.
Author Patsy Adam-Smith, herself a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) who joined the AAMWS, states in Australian Women at War:
From that date [December 1942], the Service’s officers and soldiers were subject to military law and to the provisions of the Defence Act, the Army Act and the Rules of Procedure…’The majority of the original recruits for the AAMWS were drawn from the ranks of the Voluntary Aid Detachments, and the experience they already had was of great benefit in their work in military hospitals, both home and overseas.’
In July 1949 the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service became part of the Regular Army. Two years later The Service was disbanded and its duties were incorporated into the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps.
December 1942 – February 1951: The Australian Army Medical Women’s Service established to distinguish between full-time military Voluntary Aids and those attached on a voluntary basis to the aid organisations
1946: Served in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF)
July 1949: AAMWS approved to become part of the Regular Army
February 1951: Australian Army Medical Women’s Service was disbanded and incorporated into the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps
Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) (1941 – 1947)
From: 13 August 1941 To: 30 June 1947
The Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) was established on 13 August 1941, to release men from certain military duties for service with fighting units. The Service recruited women between the ages of 18 and 45 and they served in a variety of roles including clerks, typists, cooks and drivers. In 1945 a contingent was sent to Lae and a small group went to Holland. In June 1947, owing to the end of World War II, the AWAS was disbanded.
On 13 August 1941 the War Cabinet of the Australian Government gave approval for the Formation and Control of an Australian Army Women’s Service to release men from military duties for employment with fighting units. The name was later changed to Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS).
From the time of the appointment of the Controller AWAS on 29 September 1941, until cessation of hostilities in August 1945, 24,026 women enlisted as volunteers in the Service.
Hitherto there had been no women accepted by the Army except those in the Medical Services and the potentialities of women in other trades and professions had not been utilised. In addition, as the Service expanded women with no particular qualifications, apart from general intelligence were used in various occupations where willingness to serve and general adaptability were the main requirements.
The first 29 officers were a representative selection of Australian women appointed after many women had been interviewed in each State. It was considered essential that those selected for the first officers appointments should have proved themselves as leaders in their own trade or profession or in some form of community service. They were expected to have qualities of enthusiasm and confidence in the contribution which women could take to the Army, balance and dependability in carrying through a task, consideration for the requirements and needs of other women, and most importantly, tact and patience necessary for pioneering a new organisation.
The first Officer’s Training School was held in Victoria in November-December 1941. During this time Japan entered the war and the need for womanpower in the Army was accentuated, recruiting and training commenced as soon as AWAS Officers returned to their areas. The types of recruits were quite splendid, alert, responsible and invariably inspired to volunteer by strong personal motives.
Initially the Army only envisaged that women would be employed as clerks, typists, cooks and motor transport drivers, and in small numbers, however, the demand grew very quickly and by the end of 1942 12,000 recruits had been enlisted and trained.
While at first AWAS were posted only to Headquarters, and Base Installations, they later took up duty, after specialist training in almost all Army Services. It is of interest to note that 3,618 served with the Royal Australian Artillery and they manned the Fixed Defences of Australia from Hobart in the South and Cairns in the North, and Perth in the West. And again 3,600 served in the Australian Corps of Signals, where they proved themselves well adapted for the type of work required of them.
Officers and other ranks of the Australian Intelligence Corps were commended for highly secret work. Motor transport drivers had truly varied lives driving cars, ambulances, trucks (up to 3 tons), jeeps, floating jeeps, Bren Gun Carriers, amphibious vehicles and driving convoys in all weathers. Australian Army Ordnance Corps employed 2,600 on a variety of tasks, some requiring a high degree of skill and all a marked degree of patience and perseverance. While quite unusual and somewhat trying work was carried out at the Proof and Experimental Range. Cooks, caterers and canteen workers were just as important as skilled Cipher clerks. There were several butchers in the AWAS.
In 1945 War Cabinet gave special approval for 500 AWAS to serve outside Australia. These members were posted to HQ 1st Aust. Army in New Guinea, 350 were selected and sailed on the MV Duntroon in May 1945.
In 1946, 1 Officer, 3 NCO’s, and 1 Private AWAS were included in the Army quota of 160 personnel in the Victory March contingent for London June 1946.
During 5 ½ years AWAS served throughout Australia from Darwin to Hobart, in populous parts and in some very lonely places. Each one according to her character and talents served Australia faithfully and well.
The Service was disbanded in June 1947.
Recruiting Depots in all areas.
AWAS first served on HQs and Base Installations and in the second half of 1942, employment was extended generally and covered Units as follows:-
AWAS worked as Drivers in Car Coys, and regimental establishments. Drove cars, 3 ton trucks, Jeeps, Brenguin Carriers, amphibious vehicles, ambulances and attended to the maintenance of vehicles.
They worked in watercraft workshops and in AEME repair shops: all duties connected with Signals, in the Broadcasting Unit, in Entertainment Unit, photographic unit, in Field Trail Coys. They manned A/A guns and Searchlights and they worked as hairdressers (women only), as mess and kitchen staff including several butchers and as interpreters.
Special duties were performed by an Anthropologist, a linguist, a Veterinary Surgeon, a sculptress; also as guards for Italian female internees in hospital and assisted in courts and in one mental home during an emergency.
Several ADCs were appointed from time to time for duty with the Colonel-in-Chief of AWAS.
AWAS in RAA numbered 3,618 in Fixed Defence
Local Women in the Australian Army
Local Women in the Royal Australian Navy
Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) (1950 – 1977)
From: July 1950 To: 1977
The Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) was formed in March 1941 after considerable lobbying by women keen to serve and by the Chief of the Air Staff who wanted to release male personnel serving in Australia for service overseas. The WAAAF was the largest of the Second World War women’s services. It was disbanded in December 1947.
A new Australian women’s air force was formed in July 1950 and in November became the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF). The WRAAF was disbanded in 1977 and female personnel were absorbed into the mainstream RAAF. Australia’s first female air force pilots graduated in 1988 and today, with the exception of the airfield defence units, there are few jobs within the RAAF barred to women
Local Women in the Royal Australian Air Force
Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA) (1942 – 1945)
From: 27 July 1942 To: 31 December 1945
Occupations: Services organization
On 27 July 1942, the Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA) was established as a national organisation, reporting to the Director-General of Manpower. The aim of the AWLA was to replace the male farm workers who had either enlisted in the armed services or were working in other essential war work such as munitions. The AWLA was not an enlisted service, but rather a voluntary group whose members were paid by the farmer, rather than the government or military forces. Membership of the AWLA was open to women who were British subjects and between the ages of 18 and 50 years. Housed in hostels in farming areas, members were given formal farming instruction and were initially supplied with uniform, bedding etc. Members were not engaged in domestic work rather they undertook most types of work involved with primary industries. The organisation was to be formally constituted under the National Security Regulations, but a final draft of the National Security (Australian Women’s Land Army) Regulations was not completed until 1945, and did not reach the stage of promulgation due to cessation of hostilities and the decision to demobilize the Land Army.
A ‘Land Army’ was established in each state and administered that state’s rural needs, though some members were sent interstate when available. In September 1945 it was decided that complete demobilization of the Australian Women’s Land Army would take effect not later than 31 December 1945.
They worked in all types of rural work: in the fruit, vegetable, dairying, flax, tobacco and cotton industries. In mixed farming, in poultry raising and in pastoral industries. In addition a few members worked in associated industries such as fruit packing and grading, and wool classing. A number were certified herd testers. On their shoulders lay the responsibility of feeding the navy, army and air force and civilians of Australia and the US Servicemen. They worked from the cotton fields of Queensland to the apple orchards of Tasmania.
From an attitude of skepticism, the farming community passed, wherever farms had experience of Land Army girls, to one of praise and respect. The Land Girl was capable and willing to do any of the duties required. These included root picking, milking, feeding 100 pigs, tractor driving, attending sheep (mustering, yarding, etc.), killing and skinning sheep for rations, chaff-cutting and corn-crushing.
By December 1945, the last of the great army of girls (3068 at the peak) who travelled their homeland helping to feed their own forces and that of the USA was demobilized, and three years of hard, largely unsung service to their country ended.