They also served

Whilst the lives of those in uniform have been well documented by the War Memorial Canberra and local historians, it is important to recall the effort contributed by others, particularly the girls and women left behind. Over sixty years have past, and yet, for those *involved in the ‘home front’, the memories of those war years remain clear. The women who have been interviewed for this article were in their twenties when war broke out. Plans for the future had to be put on hold as sons, brothers , husbands and boyfriends went off to fight.

Life had to continue for the families in this area. Children went to school, prepared to use trenches dug for air raids, and drill for such events wer~ regular part. They would be very familiar also with their home air raid shelter preparations. Those in essential services and therefore unable to enlist soon found life full of activities directed to the war effort. Feedinz those in the home revolved around making rationed supplies eke out. For special occasions such as t)irtti( ays or weddings, triends may occasionany give a couple of coupons for extra eggs or butter‑or material for a wedding dress. Parachute silk sometimes could be obtained by ‘someone who knew someone’ for white dresses, which would be used by many others as they were borrowed for the one wear occasion.

With rural industries close at hand, it was possible to sometimes obtain clandestine supplies of eggs which could be preserved in products such as Keep-egg(?). Clothing coupons were rationed so ‘make and mend’ methods, learnt during the depression years of the 30s, were passed from mother to daughter. How to turn sheets and collars and lengthen dresseds with bands of contrasting colours. Knitting socks, balaclavas and other comforts for the’ men at the front’ occupied every spare minute at home. Afternoon  get‑togethers were held to make camouflague netting with khaki coloured netting cord. Yard after yard of this was made and used to disguise tanks and guns installations on the headlands of Sydney and other vunerable locations likely to be used for an enemy landing. Windows had to be criss‑crossed with sticky paper to prevent glass splinters flying in case of attack. Air raid warden posts in appointed locations, often homes were equipped with gas masks and first aid equipment for emergencies. All windows had to have suitable dark curtains to ensure a blackout at night. All these precautions were readied the night the Japanese submarines broached the nets at Sydney Heads whilst open to let ferries pass.

Some families had years of waiting for news of their loved men. After months of no letters or news, there was no way of knowing if they were dead or alive, So many were in prisoner‑of‑ war camps to the north of Australia and also in Europe. Hopes were kept alive till hostilities had ceased and the post war mess could be sorted. People still recollect seeing the telegram boy from the post office delivering the telegram which usually conveyed the news. It was the job of local clergy to come soon after to provide whatever consolation they could.Some came back‑some did not.

Here are the stories of five of these women.

Miss Gwen Porter has now sadly died. When interviewed she was into her nineties with a rapier sharp mind.

Completing her education at PLC Croyden, Miss Porter became a teacher till her mother became ill. She nursed her mother whilst her sister Joy was employed doing espionage during the war. Joy could do shorthand well so was employed listening in to tapped phones and recording what she heard. She was also employed censoring letters. Joy knew when HMAS Perth had gone down but was sworn to secrecy. Gwen Porter became president of the Beecroft Cheltenham Red Cross branch during the war assisted by Miss Blore(?).When interviewed she still had bathmats woven by returned soldiers. These were made during rehabilitation to provide incentives for recovery and were sold in the Red Cross shop. The Red Cross was founded in 1914 and the local branch was originally headed by Mrs Vickers. The group did not disband and so were ready for action when war broke out again in 1939. There were no minutes kept of the meetings then so there are no good records of all the activities. The main effort was fund raising and this was done through the distribution of printed envelopes A member had an allocation of local streets and distributed an envelop to each dwelling then returned later to collect the envelope. Donations were anonymous‑money was sealed into envelope unnamed and these were opened at a meeting at the School of Arts. You could ask for a receipt. Mrs. Savage was in charge of envelope collecting for years. It was never known how much each street gave. The money was forwarded to head office. At one stage it was queried whether the envelope system was legal. Button selling and stalls with home made cakes and locally grown produce were regularly set up at the railway station. Miss May Chorley grew vegetables just for the Red Cross. When her neighbour admired them she was told she could purchase them at the railway station. Miss Porter said she was not involved in netting production but knew many who were. Sausage sizzles were held on the vacant block beside the Porter’s home in Cheltenham. This was to raise money for “Food for Britain’. These continued some time after the cessation of hostilities as rationing was still in force.. The ladies of the Red Cross bought some second‑hand bricks and built their own barbeque. A plan was drawn up by the ladies but when it was built ‘it was very crooked’ recalled Miss Porter with a laugh. To provide lighting for these evening get‑togethers, sister Joy went to town and bought six large kerosene lamps which were hung on posts. A floor for square dancing was hired and a man with a squeeze‑box played music. Members of the Victoria League, a patriotic social organization, usually attended these social events.

Miss Porter and her sister also worked hard for the Barnardo scheme arranging church parades and sausage sizzles afterwards for the young people of this scheme. She said they always underestimated how much young boy, s could eat and often ran out of food .~As these were held on a Sunday there were no shops open to obtain  extra supplies. Because of petrol rationing, no one delivered groceries to the house so Miss Porter’s father shared the cost with neighbours and went to Dural for any fruit and veggies from roadside stalls and Eastwood for other household requirements. He would also collect Miss Chorley’s weekly ten pounds of gravy beef for stewing. Because she was a qualified Red Cross driver, Miss Porter said she could sometimes obtain a little extra petrol.

The Porter’s had an air raid shelter in the garden, built by her father. Because it was like a pit, it filled up with water. Beecroft had an air raid siren which would be regularly tested. Miss Porter was rostered for evening air raid duty. One night while on duty, her team could hear but not see a plane. It flew back and forth over this part  of Sydney. It was feared it would attack Lidcombe area which was very vunerable as the railway line split near by, one link going to Melbourne and the other to the west. A bomb attack here would cut the railway links and also the pipes of the Sydney water supply. It was an easy target as the large cemetery and the river in the area were difficult to disguise Also the Parramatta munitions storagearea was close. The sirens went off and the sky was criss­crossed with searchlights. The plane was pin‑pointed‑it was associated with the Japanese ship off the coast. Miss Porter thinks this happened after the Japanese midget Submarines entered Sydney Harbour.

Mrs. Joy Adams had lived in Beecroft for many years and has been‑and still is active in local organizations.

Mrs. Adams was a war widow‑to say the least a terrible experience for a young woman at the age of twenty‑six. She and her first husband had married two years before in 1942.At first, he had been declared unfit for active service however after corrective surgery, he was able to meet the standards. Her husband was being trained as an airman at Mildura, N.S.W. for service with one of the most dangerous squadrons. Their approaching assignment was to serve in New Guinea, at the time when the Japanese seemed to be having much success in the Pacific zone. In this squadron, sixty men lost their lives. Her husband a flying officer, was killed in 1944 in a training accident before departing for overseas. When asked how she heard the news, Joy said she was at work with the AMP (Melbourne) in the city. Her mother and father arrived at the place where she worked to bring her the news A year later, peace was declared and all the staff from the AMP rushed out onto Collins Street, as there was a march down the street, with the city bells playing and the crowds dancing in the street. For Joy it was very difficult and she said she ‘had to put on a brave face’ as for her there was not much rejoicing as all her dreams had evaporated. Mrs. Adams clearly recalls the weekly routine for the working girls. After working all day, a sandwich was brought from home as a meal after work, though the AMP also had a dining room for meals. The girls went straight on to whatever war effort activity they had that evening. One night was traininiz for ambulance driving tuition including basic maintenance and tyre changing. Giving blood was a regular evening activity. One night was helping at St. Vincents (hospital?).Another night was for first aid training with a useful qualification as a VAD when completed. This training proved useful wheft Joy was first on the scene when a small boy was badly injured in a traffic accident. The paper next day commended Joy on saving the boy’s life with her rapidly applied knowledge. The staff of the AMP also put on plays, so rehearsals occupied another evening. By 9p.m. girls went home on the tram. Joy was also part of a small group of young women,.who, feeling sorry for children whose daddies were in the war zone, put three pence per week into a kitty to regularly take three children to the zoo. At the end of 1945 Joy met Ron Adams and they married several years later as Joy was not ready to begin married life with someone else so soon. Ron and Joy came to Beecroft when they relocated to Sydney. In recent years the government has restored a war pension to these widows. It had been taken away when they remarried.

Mrs. Ruth James enlisted in 1942 when she was nineteen, feeling she must ‘do something’ for the war effort. Though she was ‘in uniform’, her war contribution was within the Sydney area. As Private Cornish, she was located at Liverpool Details Depot typing up list after list of all the men and supplies which were to be dispatched to the north should Darwin be invaded. Two years were spent typing these ongoing lists. Most young women in those times had had sheltered lives. Ruth recalls happily the four men protection ‘committee’ of men who chaperoned Ruth and her friends during that time. With an alteration in the path of the war, and an end in sight Ruth was assigned to the Medical Board at Sydney Showground. Here preparations were made for the repatriation of the returning service men and women, particularly, prisoners of war. Ruth remembers POW’s over six feet tall weighing six stone. Ruth’s uncle was in one of these groups and 1, as she had typed the lists Ruth knew. She was allowed to be almost the first to greet him, a moment long ago but recalled with much joy. One of the sad facts, Ruth said was that these prisoners had been on starvation rations and as a result were skeletal. Some could not follow medical orders to gradually get used to more food on the ships bringing them back to Australia and they died during the journey from complications of the sudden changes in diet.

Ruth met her husband to be in the orderly room during this time‑another wartime romance with a happy ending.

Mrs. Glad Turner. as a young girl during war time, was working in a company making labels for pharmaceutical bottles. The man who owned the company was called up so Glad had to step up to all kinds of responsibilities with the help of the aged former owner of the business. Between the two of them they ran the company. Glad also had to do the after-hours duties expected of the young women such as assisting at canteens, helping with overseas food hampers and first aid training. Still a fun person, Glad says with a smile , although ‘she felt bad about it, she skipped first aid duty the night the Japanese entered Sydney Harbour ‑to go to a party.

Miss Marjorie  Rouse is an alert ninety eight and a half with a razor sharp mind. Until 2012 Miss Rose lived alone in Beecroft in her retirement years. She was born in Newcastle where she was educated at Newcastle Girls High School, doing her Leaving Certificate in 1932.She had been captain and dux of her school and had her A.Mus.A. qualifications. Topping the state in history and coming fourth in the overall placings, Marjorie went to Sydney to study at the university with scholarships for Womens  College, all her tuition and a Teachers College scholarship. Facts have to be coaxed out of Marjorie as she has a natural reticense  and humility The government was encouraging students to go into the sciences so, in spite of her history talents, Marjorie followed sciences and for two years after graduation, taught in Wollongong. Whilst at university she had developed an interest in a new field of study‑that of population feeding‑dietetics on a large scale. By now Europe was teetering on another war and the British government offered one scholarship to each dominion country for a student to come to Oxford to pursue study which might be useful in the now imminent period of war. It was aimed at medical students. Nevertheless, Marjorie’s mother saw the advertisement in the paper and sent it to Marjorie urging her to apply. Marjorie won the scholarship for Australia with her science degree and her well thought through plan for study in the area of population feeding. When America entered the war she called a conference to inform the new allies about the problems which would face European people‑all this while still a very young woman. The British Council renewed her scholarship for another three years.

After the cessation of hostilities, Holland, now at starvation point and having to survive on catching sparrows for protein and eating tulip bulbs requested Marjorie’s help.  Having established a plan for Holland, Italy requested her assistance, followed by France. Years later, when Marjorie was receiving meals‑on ‑wheels, she found the delivery man was a Dutch man who as a child remembered receiving the rations prescribed by Marjorie. The Carnegie Foundation of America offered her grants and after some time in New York where she was pressed to stay permanently, she came home as her father had died and she felt she had home responsibilities. During these years she was alarmed to find that her father had for a long time been paying off the Teachers College Scholarship she had forsaken in order to go to Oxford. Eventually he sent a letter to the powers that be saying ‘don’t you think my daughter had done enough for Australia’ and asking for the rest of the debt to be wiped off. Returning to Australia Miss Rouse became Tasmania’s chief nutrition officer before moving to Melbourne. She planned the diploma in nutrition, pioneering work in food technology. She was invited to New Zealand where she was offered a professorship.

Sitting in her lovely retirement home she quietly says ‘I think 1 was sixty years ahead of my time’ and also quietly adds that a text she wrote years ago is still published by Oxford University Press.

There is much more to write of her life but her years of reluctance to seek honour and glory for her work only make her achievements more amazing.

Beecroft and Cheltenham were small villages at the war time. Boys waited on Beecroft station to wave troops being transported to the city. This of course was repeated when ‘the boys came home’. Flags and cheering greeted the exhausted servicemen. One service man said as he picked up a nearest and dearest family member, ‘see 1 am still strong enough to pick you up’. At the celebration family breakfast though, Grandpa was too filled with emotion to join the family.


Whether achieving intern international recognition or labouring at home during wartime, these stories are sufficient to establish the contribution of women during World War 11.