in the Armed Forces
Similarly, amongst the phenomenal number of army personnel that
were either stationed
at or passed through Alice Springs, a very small percentage were
women. There were so few around 200 were based in town between
1943-45 - compared to the thousands of servicemen involved in
the convoys, that their significant contribution to the war effort
in Central Australia could be easily overlooked.
servicewomen were concentrated in five areas of employment, mainly
in traditional supportive roles in the areas of health care, administration
and domestic work, while a few broke into the then male domains
of communications and transport.
Springs, NT, 1945.
Switchboard operators from 48 Australian Tele-Ops Signals
Section en route to Darwin.
Back row, from left: Aileen Cooper, Edna teasdale, June Higgs,
Venice Macbeth, Lieutenant Molly Gately. In front: Billie
Walker, Audrey Weston. All from the Australian Women's Army
(Image supplied by Mrs I. Grant, image on loan from Australian
War Memorial, Canberra)
of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and Australian Army
Medical Womens Service (AAMWS) worked at the former government
(opened 1939), now military hospital, which was turned over to the
army in August 1942. It
officially became 109 AGH (Australian General Hospital) reverting
back to non-military status by the end of 1945. Before its army
status, the hospitals nursing staff consisted of 2 Sisters
and a Matron. During the height of the war, female
nursing staff (both AANS and AAMWS) averaged a little over 70
during 1942 and 1943, gradually dropping off to around 60 by the
end of the war. Unlike todays health profession, all other
major medical positions at the hospital were solely occupied by
men army officers who were for example, trained doctors,
surgeons, pathologists, pharmacists, optometrists, opthalmologists,
dentists, radiologists and radiographers. The hospital cooks, orderlies
and majority of the administrative staff were also male.
Australian Army Womens Service (AWAS) had been initially established
in 1941 to train women in certain technical fields that would release
more men to go to the front line. They began arriving in Alice Springs
in 1942 taking on a variety of administrative roles within the army
while there were also a small number of specialist trained AWAS
Signalwomen and Despatch Riders.
The Australian Army Medical Womens Service, members of which
were known colloquially by pronouncing its acronym AAMWS as Am-wars)
was officially formed in 1943 following Japans entry into
the war and the resulting greater need
for assistance in military hospitals. The role
of AAMWS members was to help the trained sisters of the Australian
Army Nursing Service (AANS), or undertake non-nursing
roles in the hospital such as in the laundry or administration.
Prior to the formation of this particular womens army service,
the nursing sisters had been assisted by the Voluntary
Aide Detachment, non-military volunteers who had received training
in first aid and home nursing through a course designed by the St
Johns Ambulance and the Red Cross. The Red Cross had first
established this service in Australia during WWI (although formed
earlier in the UK) and the Voluntary Aides or VAs were later absorbed
into the AAMWS.
Springs, NT, 1945.
Wedding in Alice Springs. Image courtesy of Adelaide House
Museum, Alice Springs.
Army nurses staffed the 109 AGH when it was officially established
in August 1942, dropping to 32 the following year and 24 by the
end of the war. However prior to the army hospital coming into operation,
the first 10 AANS to
arrive in Alice Springs
were part of No 44 Camp Hospital which moved into the government
hospital grounds a few months earlier. [Camp
hospitals, consisting of a small medical team of doctors and
nurses and accommodating 5 beds had been established at Birdum,
Newcastle Waters and Tennant Creek while the track was being developed
as a defence road.]
all members of AANS, those
in Alice were trained nurses, registered by the Nurses Board
in a State of the Commonwealth of Australia. They were all aged
between 21 and 40 (the age for enlistment was changed for nurses
in 1941 from between 25 and 35 years for overseas service). Many
had joined up at Keswick Barracks in Adelaide and some in Melbourne.
This would have involved a full medical examination with chest X-rays
and innoculations against typhoid and smallpox in preparation for
overseas service) and then issued with outdoor and indoor uniforms,
identity discs (to be worn day and night), pay-book, and even tin
hats and gas masks. The ward uniform consisted of a grey button-through
dress with detachable white cuffs and collar (pinned at the neck
with the AIF Rising Sun emblem); a short scarlet cape and starched
white head veil. Senior sisters
wore 2 chocolate bands above the cuff of the ward dress while Matrons
wore chocolate coloured cuffs. The outdoor
uniform was a distinctive grey Norfolk jacket, knee-length skirt;
and brimmed hat, worn with a shirt and tie. They were also issued
with great coats, which were much needed on night duty during the
cold Central Australian
the army nurses, the AWAS girls enjoyed trips out bush. Signalwoman
Anne Steele remembers staying at the Hayes cattle station
at Undoolya with another AWAS colleague Isabel Cook whilst she was
recuperating from an appendix operation. They had their photograph
taken on a camel with a group of Aboriginal children.
She also remembers that the Hayes had a pedal wireless at the homestead.
Army Womens Service (AWAS) worked as kitchen staff, clerks,
switchboard operators and stenographers, based
in buildings on what is now the Oval, beside Anzac Hill, at
the Medical Centre for Intelligence and Administration. One of the
important but often unrecognised
tasks undertaken by female staff were those attached to the
Amenities Unit who produced
the army newsletter Mulga.
addition there were a small number of specialist trained AWAS
Signalwomen, attached to the Australian Corps of Signals, and
based at the Signal Office at the Anzac Hill end of Todd Street.
Those trained as DonRs or Despatch Riders also did transport
work, driving cars and trucks around town.