NOWRA

Part Two

When I was promoted to Corporal, one of my duties for a while was to issue Clothing Coupon Ration Cards on some paydays. I was given instructions (but really an Order) to carefully check the numbers before signing for them by the Station Accountant. These cards were kept in the safe of the SAO (I think these letters stood for Station Administrative Officer) and he was a Squadron Leader. On one occasion, as I started to check, I was told not to bother, as the Paymaster was waiting for me. I advised the SAO of my instructions and he looked very annoyed and red-faced but could see I was already starting. There were about ten numbers missing and I signed only for the ones on the table and left. When I returned, he signed for those not used and he was posted from the station soon after that episode. At the time, I did not think about it and it was not until I wrote my blog about my time in the WAAAF, (about 1985), I realised what dreadful trouble I could have been in if I had signed that form. Probably accused of stealing and possibly charged.

***

One girl from the unit, who was travelling into town on the bus, had her arm outside the window. I believe was taken off at the elbow, when a truck swerved near it. Luckily a Medical Orderly was on board and was quickly able to render urgent first aid before she was taken to Berry Hospital. I did not hear what happened after that incident.

***

I started having trouble with my teeth after about 12 months and had to visit the dentist a lot of times for fillings. Then, a new dentist experimented (I now believe - for his own benefit to get practice) by filing away most of one of my front teeth. It only had a couple of small holes and I ended up with all the back and bottom filed away. Then, it was backed with gold and this could be seen around the bottom edge. It looked OK but from then on, I had awful trouble with it, as it kept falling out and I would have to have it stuck on again. This was very embarrassing at times.

***

There was a Sgt. Stenographer in the Stores and I called her the ‘great unwashed’. No one at the Unit ever saw her have a shower or a decent wash. That does not mean to say she never had one. She did have awful body odour and I noticed that when she had to take notes for the Equipment Officer, he did not have her in his office for very long. I had seen her a few times since the war and didn't notice any B.O. problem. I can only guess she did not like the lack of privacy in the ablution area.

***

One interesting event was the birth of a baby in another hut. (This story is only from stories related to me about it, so I cannot vouch for all the details mentioned.) The mother was a lovely looking, blonde girl of Nordic origin and kind person, though I did not know her very well. The others in the hut never knew anything was happening, until they heard the cries of the baby. How she able to keep quiet during her labour and the birth is unbelievable. I was told that they were rushed to the hospital and neither was seen the next day. I heard she was removed from the Station and discharged sometime later. The kind WAAAF Officer knew she was pregnant but the girl denied it more than once and refused to see the Medical Officers, so she could do nothing. This girl was single and the baby’s father had been killed in action and she wanted to stay in the service, as long as possible.

***

Ella Douglas, Flight Officer Lillian Gammie – Forward Echelon and President of the WAAAFS,
and Lady Francis in April, 1946.

 

This picture was in the Brisbane Telegraph at the time and it was taken at the Parliamentary Garden Party in Brisbane in April, 1946. The Garden Party was to farewell the Governor of Queensland Sir Leslie Wilson and his wife. Lady Francis was the wife of Sir John (Josiah) Francis MP. The hat worn by Ella Douglas would have her own design as she was a Milliner in her single days, and her dress was a pale blue.

(A section Officer Gammie was the second WAAAF Officer who was at Nowra during my service there. I do not remember her facial features but believe I have located the correct officer. She was strict but kind and understanding and I liked her. The name above was the only one I could find at the National Archives of Australia. I cannot check her Service Documents as they are not available for details of her postings. I found this photo in Trove.)

***

On one occasion at the Nowra Store, an ordinary, kitchen type clock worth about 5 shillings went missing. Anything worth this amount or more was considered to be an accountable item. The 'person of interest' happened to be a quiet, shy religious girl, much to the disgust of all those I knew. I never heard what went on but the inquiry (as far as I knew) was dropped. It was a very trying time for this girl but the support she received must have been of some comfort to her. We all believed she was innocent of this 'dreadful' crime.

***

I went for three 'flips' (rides in aircraft). Where this term came from, I have no idea. Once was in a Beaufort Bomber and the pilot joked that he would be able to make me sick. I foolishly said that was not going to happen and he did lots of things to unsettle me. A steep dive down and then up, was an experience I would not like to have again. I felt as if all the skin on my face was being pulled down with the ‘G’ force and my eyes would end up on my chin. How airmen go through that at much greater speeds over and over again is a mystery to me. Managing it in ‘action’, when someone was trying to kill them, I cannot understand. I did not get sick but when I landed, I had a really dreadful headache that I concealed from the pilot. A couple of girls were later injured slightly, in a crash landing in another Beaufort. That was the end of any girls having a 'flip' at Nowra.

***

***

Another flip was in an Avro Anson, which was a lumbering, slow aircraft used for patrolling the shipping lanes, to watch out for submarines. When we landed, it was just after knock off time and the ground staff were anxious to ‘bed the plane down for the night’. One airman was helping to lift an engine cowling off, as I climbed down in a flying suit and helmet. The wind caught the cowling and it fell on to his shin. He let out with a great stream of swear words (some I had never heard before) and I burst out laughing. He did not know there had been a woman on board and was so upset, he ran off. He tried for days to find out, who was the WAAAF, who had heard him cursing.

Nowra, NSW. c.1944. 406371 Flying Officer Ken Rolfe, No. 73 Squadron RAAF, poses next to Anson aircraft No. AX-281 parked outside an aircraft hangar at Nowra RAAF Base. (Donor: B. Manera)

***

WAAAFMadge Crawford, one of my friends. Photo was taken near our Stores Office.
She is wearing the one piece 'jeans' we used. (mostly in winter)

***

There was an L.A.C. (Leading Aircraftsman) at Nowra who was posted up north and he did not want to go, so he went A.W.L. (absent without leave). After a while, he was caught, punished, went off again and the same things happened. I don't know if he eventually went into a fighting area or not. He cared nothing about what names he was called (and there were plenty) or what was said to him and I wonder why he enlisted in the first place. Perhaps, he had no choice and thought the R.A.A.F. was a safer place than the Army. I heard of another serviceman, who was sent north in the brig of a ship but the war ended before he saw any action. He contracted T.B. post-war and because he had been outside Australian waters, was considered to be a returned Serviceman.

***

After about a year, we had movies on the Unit and I was one of the few who sold tickets for the seats. We received some extra money for this that was much appreciated and we were able to see the movies for free. Every evening, one of us would have to go to the Sergeants’ and Officers’ Messes, to pick up the unsold tickets and money. These were the reserved seats and those unsold could then be issued to the other ranks. One perk to this job was that the cooks in these messes gave us leftover food and this was so much better than we normally had to eat.

***

One of the Sgts. in the Accounting Section had worked in the entertainment field before enlisting and he helped to get a few concerts together that were a lot of fun. My very important part was to act as curtain girl because I was not a singer/actress. I was dressed in an outfit, like a swimming costume. On the beach, it would not have worried me but I did get very embarrassed, when I was greeted with wolf whistles, every time I was seen. In my opinion my legs were not anything to rave about, so I guess the airmen were ‘starved’ for the sight of a bit of flesh.

***

One of my most 'haunting' memories of my time there involved a tenor. I never knew his name, saw him closely or spoke to him. Occasionally, when there was no one in the recreation hut, he would go there, sit at the piano, start playing and singing in a clear tenor voice in English - 'A Star Falls from Heaven'. It is one of my very favourite songs sung in English or German by Joseph Schmidt. In those dreary surroundings, it was like magic to the ears. Anyone around within hearing distance would stop and listen. He never did this at any other time and if he stood next to me, I would not have recognised him, as I never had a decent view of him because the Recreation Hut was much higher than our quarters. Sadly, he was only at Nowra for a short time.

***

One unpleasant memory I recall. I had just returned to the hut from a coolish shower on a very cold evening, when a girl asked what the water was like. (A common question at that time of year.) Before I could answer, a girl called Gail and Joan answered together "It is lovely and hot." I commented " No, it is not. It is quite cool." Gail asked if I was calling them liars and I said "If the cap fits, wear it." I was sitting on my bed and with my response, the both of them grabbed my arms and twisted them up my back and were really hurting me. My head was bent down almost to one knee and one of Gail's hands happened to be resting there and I bit her. She screamed "You bit me and I am going to report you." With that, they both let go. I was not worried, as there were many witnesses to the attack and there never was a complaint. What really hurt my feelings was that Joan, whom I considered as a friend, was involved and I had tears in my eyes. I don't remember if I bit hard enough to leave a mark or not but I did not forget Joan's part in the action but let it pass, as any nastiness in the hut was unpleasant for all.

***

Another unpleasant memory for me. I had been to the dance with a fellow and was saying goodnight near our hut, when he kissed me in a way I did not like. I pulled away, rushed into the hut, fumbled for toothbrush and paste and headed for the ablution block. When I returned, I was asked what was the matter. My explanation caused some giggles and one of the girls explained that it was a French Kiss! My response was that the French could keep it. Sure, I was young and naive.

***

I had many dates to go to the dances and occasionally for meals in town. There were a few airmen I liked but these feelings were not shared and a couple liked me but I was not interested. Some were farmers' sons and I backed off very quickly. Being a farmer's wife was not for me because I saw how hard they worked and the long hours involved. I had been told by a Scottish man (who was supposed to be 'fey') that I would marry a farmer one day, when he grabbed my hand and 'read' it. I made sure that did not happen.

***

The food was only 'passable' except for the baked dinners and I had many meals in town. In the summer, I bought a pineapple on most visits in that season, brought it back to the hut and ate as much as I could and gave the rest away. Eventually, I developed a severe allergy and it affected most of my body from the waist down, particularly my legs that were very swollen. I was in hospital for a week and had some gooey ointment spread over my severe itches. I was warned to keep off that diet in future.

***

While there, I met a girl who worked as a Mess Orderly. She was a very plain girl, pale and with mousey hair. I did not know her very well and was not in her company, except on bus trips into Town to have a decent meal or to go to the dances. She seemed to be lonely and sad and during the times I saw her, did not have any friends and I felt sorry for her. I spoke to her on these occasions but one day she invaded my personal space by putting her arm around my shoulders. I pulled away and she never did that again and other girls complained of this action but I never heard any nasty remarks. It was not until the late 80's that I realised she was homosexual. It must have been a lonely time for her, as there was no support in those days. I don't remember ever hearing that word when I was at Nowra.

***

There was an interesting fellow, a Warrant Officer who kept the airman on their toes. He was typical of that rank and had a voice like a fog-horn on the Parade Ground. He seemed to like chatting to me and related interesting stories of happenings on the Unit - only those fit for a young WAAAF to hear and he made many funny remarks. He never asked me not to repeat them, so he must have trusted me. One comment, he made after the crash of the two Beauforts, I will always remember. There were extra Service Police sent to the Station to help with enquiries and he remarked "They would not be able to track a tram down Pitt Street." (in Sydney).

***

Monday was 'hard tack' day, when we were served margarine (nothing like what we have today) instead of butter and it was dreadful. Herrings in tomato sauce (a vile dish) was often on the menu and dog biscuits. Certainly, a dog could chew them but an ordinary person like me did not even try. I always had some eats in my locker to curb my hunger.

***

I could dance as long as there was music but route marches and exercise periods did nothing for my morale. In all the time I was there, I don't ever remember going on a march and only managed a couple of exercise efforts. One march was up Nowra Hill and that seemed to be a 'a hill too far' and no way I wanted to be part of that event. Whenever one was scheduled, I saw the O.I.C. or Cpl. and told them I had a lot of work on my table. Making orders for Officers' uniforms and other goods not in store, appealed very much to me at those times. My bosses knew what I was doing and the D.I. could do nothing about it but she never held it against me. The Cpl. was the one I disobeyed when I first arrived and he and Joan became an item and got married after the war.

***

About twelve months after moving to the store, that Cpl. was posted and I was promoted. After work, I rushed back to the hut to sew my stripes on my best jeans. When I had finished, I was invited outside only to be showered with a bucket of water. I was pushed over into what had been dust and was now mud and rolled in it. Just a bit of fun. It was annoying to me that Kay received her stripes at the same time. Probably, she worked hard at the B.T.U. but only a few of us knew of her many absences at bed checks, for which she could have been severely punished.

***

The L.A.C. who came to work with me was much older and experienced and it must have been difficult, perhaps humiliating for him to take orders from a young 19 year old. However, we worked well together but sharing one radiator in the winter to warm two freezing people at desks in different positions, was difficult.

***

Kay became involved with an American and often stayed in Nowra overnight with him. She caught the early tender (truck) from town but how she dodged past the female Officers hut to ours for months on end, I don't know. Joan (as a Cpl.) and a few others covered up for her at bed check at night. When I was promoted and had that duty, I informed Kay she had better be there the night I was on. I had no intention of getting into trouble, if things went wrong. Kay was a lazy person and when she spent the night on the Station, she slept in and managed to coax someone to bring her coffee and toast from the mess. Then, she would get up for Morning Parade. She kept up her nasty comments about me and I found it difficult to ignore her but for the sake of peace in the hut, I shrugged them off.

***

We did have a few really difficult girls at the Station at times and some were discharged. Our D.I. always had a really trying job and I think she appreciated the fact that I never caused her any problems. She was a wonderful person and did everything she could to help anyone in trouble and worked tirelessly for us. I really admired her for the work she did and she was sorely missed, when she was posted to another station. I did meet her a few times post-war.

***

The caps that we wore at first had shiny peaks and we were mistaken for female Tram Conductors, much to our annoyance when people offered us the money for their fares. Much later, the peak was covered with cloth. Below are two photos showing the difference. Last photo taken in Martin Place prior to my marriage in April 1945.

WAAAF WAAAF

***

Studio photo (probably taken late 1944) with my brother. He served on a B24 Liberator in 21 Squadron in New Guinea, Borneo and was stationed for a while at Fenton Air Base, Northern Territory in Australia.

WAAAF

***

This is the end of the Nowra stories. When I started preparing my notes (about 20 years ago) on all the people I remembered, (about 70 of them at Nowra) I included details of their mustering and physical descriptions for most of them. I have only chosen a few to enter as most of these stories are not in date order, as some only came to mind recently.

***

Looking back at my time there, I went out with a lot of fellows and I am glad it happened in those times. The Beaufort Crews only stayed for 6 weeks, so there were a lot of young fellows coming and going. Dating then, meant going out and having a good time and a kiss and cuddle for goodnight. The French Kiss one tried on me, was the worst I remember. There were occasional 'groping' hands on the darkened, crowded bus coming home from town. I pushed them away with force and that was the end of it. I had never heard of the word rape during my service life, though there were times when I took risks without being aware of possible danger.

***

I do not know if I was just good at picking decent fellows for dates, shrewd or was extremely lucky. Many times, I was in groups, so then there were no problems. It may have been the era and my good fortune to have parents who taught me what was right and wrong in those days. Those were not the words used by Mum and Dad but that was what I understood as the messages. Things have changed a lot since then. I did learn not to be too critical and keep my opinions to myself. I found that a lot of girls that at first I considered to be 'rough', turned out to be generous and helpful.

***

I was posted to No. 51 Radar Unit at Coolangatta on 21st August 1944 and was lucky to have time to visit my parents before my journey. Then, there was the long (about 24 hours) train trip from Central Station to Murwillumbah and then a bus to Coolangatta.

 

 

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