Nowra part one
Nowra part two
Nowra part three
Nowra part four
Brisbane & North
Macrossan & Wedding
WAAAF Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force World War Two recollections of Margaret Clarke describing her experiences from 1941 to 1945
MACROSSAN & A WEDDING
Squadron Officer Hope Forster from Richmond, Queensland, the Officer in Charge of the WAAAF at Macrossan. I have no memory of meeting or seeing her, though I probably was taken to her office, after I arrived.
It was possibly the 25th or 26 March when I arrived in Macrossan. At first, I did not like it at this Stores Depot, as it was an enormous, rambling, scattered, dusty place. I have no memory of the Mess or Laundry facilities here. There was consternation, when I arrived in the office, as there was another Corporal there with about the same seniority. There was a vacancy for a sergeant and it was earmarked for this other girl and she was frightened that she would miss out on the promotion. As it turned out, she had a few days on me and I was not interested anyway. Leo and I planned to get married on his embarkation leave if possible and that was my main interest.
At first, I did not feel welcome and my duties were just entering data and that was very boring. The heat was oppressive, I was very homesick and missing Leo. There was a big court martial going on at the time (some officer was in deep trouble) and as a newcomer, everyone who knew anything, made sure I learnt very little about it. I can tell you, I was very curious. I was told that as I was not on the unit when ‘the incident’ happened, it was none of my business and I felt like a real outsider. The office area was very large with many desks and I was seated right at the front.
I had two friends there but only remember the name of one, who was a typical old maid called Kitty. After the war, I visited her a couple of times with my daughter but we lost touch. I met another WAAAF (from Rookies) and she was somehow involved in the inquiry. She acted very uppity with me and I did not appreciate it. She had been educated at a private school and had her Leaving Certificate. I only had the Intermediate Certificate from a public school, therefore 'not in the league' with her group of friends.
The huts were very long, neat, tidy and cool. Possums got into the hut one night and scared us half to death, by running along the ledge (the length of the hut in most cases), above and behind our beds. (see photo) They knocked something over and that frightened them, so they ran faster sending things flying everywhere. It took ages to clear up the mess. Another evening, a small kangaroo or wallaby thumped down the length of the hut, in the middle of the night, causing great panic, noise and screams.
I was thrilled when Leo wrote that he had final leave and permission to get married. I applied for leave too and was given approval, so set off for home about 3 weeks after my arrival there to be married on 21 April at Kogarah in Sydney. I left via Townsville but I guess I was excited and have no memory of any of the journey except that at Townsville, I asked if the train was on time. This was common question because they were usually late. I was told very casually that it was and then the stationmaster added “But it is one day overdue.” I found Queenslanders so very casual and it was nothing for drivers to stop the train, then have their cuppa and eats by the side of the track. Frustrated passengers just had to fume. Trains running to a schedule were not a consideration for most of them.
My dear mother was left to make most of the arrangements before I arrived in Sydney. The wedding was at the Soldiers' Memorial Presbyterian Church and the supper in the Sunday School hall next door. Everything went well with a lot of help from others. Leo did not have much money, so he could not afford to buy an engagement ring but was able to purchase a lovely dress ring instead.
These photos taken in Martin Place, Sydney the day Leo bought the ring.
There was some place in Sydney that lent wedding dresses to Servicewomen and when I had a look at the few available, none were suitable or looked a bit tatty. I was able to borrow a wedding dress (it fitted perfectly) and flower girl frock for my young sister from a war bride, who lived near home. Madge Crawford, my friend from Nowra was able to get leave, so she was my bridesmaid. Leo's mate could not get leave, so his younger brother filled in for him, as best man. I only have vague memories of that day except for the fact that the photographer I booked for photos at the church did not turn up.
I wore my uniform as a going away frock and we headed for a horrible, little hotel near Central Station. The desk clerk gave us a smirky grin, when we signed in. We had to leave from there, early next morning to go by train to Gosford and then on to Terrigal, for our honeymoon.
I think we were only there for one week but it may have been two and Leo had to go back to Southport, to rejoin his Unit. The gold cap came off my front tooth on the second last day and I had this gap at the front of my mouth. This was very embarrassing and I had to wait until I got back to Sydney, to have it fixed.
I left Sydney a few days later for Macrossan but was able to meet Leo in Brisbane for a short time to say good-bye. Once again, I have no memory of the journey, (Sydney to Brisbane and then on to Home Hill.) The troop train stopped there because the bridge had not yet been rebuilt. Then, it was a trip on the back of a truck across the bed of the river (now a trickle) and a small wooden bridge to Ayr. There, the army had a camp and provided our lunch (a sickly, greyish looking stew) in large urns served under the blazing sun. This horrible looking mixture was slapped on to plates by a large fellow in a grubby apron. The worst meal I had ever had put in front of me. I settled for some bread rolls and butter with a cup of tasteless tea.
This day was my 21st birthday and I was feeling very tired from lack sleep on the trains and my worry about Leo heading to fighting up in the Islands. What a celebration for reaching adulthood!!! That night, I cried myself to sleep.
I joined some groups for lovely picnics on the banks of the Burdekin River after work and that was very relaxing. The food as usual was mostly uninteresting except for the sweets. I devoured far too many oranges, as eating most food in the mess was an ordeal. There were groves nearby and the fruit was large, very sweet, delicious and the farmer sold them to us at a very cheap rate. This brought on another very bad bout of hives, much worse than the first. Instead my legs, this time my face and neck came up and it looked as though I had a bad case of the mumps. My eyes disappeared into slits and I looked Chinese. Hospital was again my home for a week.
I went into Charters Towers a few times and it had to be seen to be believed. It was like an old western town at that time (as seen in cowboy movies) and the hotels had swinging doors. I do not remember if there was any place that was painted, as all I can recall was a dull, dreary, unpainted, neglected town.
I spent a couple more months at Macrossen worrying about Leo, as I found out that he was at Balikpapan in Borneo. I was not feeling well with the awful heat and reported to Sick Quarters and very much to my surprise, told I was pregnant, so put in for a Medical Discharge. I did not get 'morning sickness' thank goodness but just wanted to go home. I was not sure how Leo would take this news, as he indicated he was not ready for a family, when we were on our honeymoon. I had to travel from camp to Townsville, then on to Brisbane, Sydney and Bradfield Park for the processing of the final paper work.
A lovely Salvation Army Officer interviewed me and she oozed kindness and sympathy and when I did not need assistance, she wished me well. The war was over for me on 14 August, 1945 and I went home to civilian life to wait for Leo, who returned from overseas just before my daughter was born on 5 February, 1946. My mother and father were thrilled that they were to become grandparents. If I had not become pregnant, my stay at Macrossan would not have lasted long, as the war ended soon after I was discharged.
This was the end of my service life and I remember it as a wonderful experience. My recollections of my three years in the WAAAF are very clear about most events but there is complete blank about some less important details.
During my research for data for WAAAF Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force in WW11 and from memory, I believed that the Minister for Air, Hon. A. S. Drakeford, ordered that no WAAAF were to be posted overseas.
I discovered that in fact, a couple did serve in Port Moresby from 22 December 1943 to 20 January 1944. These Officers were Flight Officer Alison Allen (a dietitian) and Under Officer Ruby Hudson (a highly trained and experienced cook). They tested food and worked out recipes to advise catering staff of the RAAF and U.S. catering staff. (page 273). She also wrote “Their tour also included Milne Bay, Goodenough Island and Kiriwina”.
Under-Officer Ruby Hudson, WAAAF (left), a RAAF Nursing Sister, and Flight Officer Alison Allen, WAAAF (right), at RAAF Station Port Moresby. Flight Officer Allen, a dietitian, and Under Officer Hudson, a highly trained and experienced cook, had been posted to Port Moresby for the period 1943-12-22 to 1944-01-20 to advise RAAF Army and United States catering staff on the preparation, cooking and presentation of the tinned and dried foods that made up the bulk of the daily rations in the area.
Another WAAAF, Section Officer Ailsa Newman (a metallurgical chemist and formally a bacteriologist) spent three months in New Guinea and adjacent islands. She was a liaison officer with Medical Services between 22 May and 25 August, 1945. She visited Finnschafen, Madang, Aitpe, and Lae in New Guinea, Torokina in Bouganville and Jacquinot in New Britain. (page 274)
Full details in ‘The WAAAF in Wartime Australia’ by Joyce Thomson
I feel really proud of their service in these areas. How this was arranged when they were not supposed to serve overseas is a mystery and a great surprise to me. It never occurred to me that I might have been sent out of Australia and wonder how I would have coped with possible danger.
Signed Margo (the name I was called during that time).