The years my mother Evelyn served in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) during World War II were her most formative. They shaped the strong, determined, loving and capable person I came to know. Evelyn’s time in the WAAAF was arguably the most exciting, rich and educative chapter of her young life. I came to this conclusion about her WAAAF experience in My mother, a young woman (May 6, 2016).

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1942. Brisbane. ACW Evelyn Beaumont, a new WAAAF recruit. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

Evelyn lived long enough to receive a service medal in 2005 commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. At the time she was 89 years old and living with my husband and me in Brisbane. She was thrilled to receive this token of her wartime service. She added it to the two medals she was awarded at the end of her WAAAF service, the War Medal 1939-45 and Australia Service Medal 1939-45.

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Evelyn’s war service medals. Photo source: Judith Salecich.

In 2006 I decided to write my mother’s life story. I wanted to record Evelyn’s recollections while I had opportunity and before her memory faded. When I came to her wartime service, I found my mother’s extensive collection of WAAAF photographs and memorabilia a great help. In fact, given her collection, I could write an entire book, fully illustrated, about this period of my mother’s life!

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Evelyn’s WAAAF photograph album and photos (“snapshots”). Photo source: Judith Salecich.
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Evelyn’s WAAAF “snapshot” album (inside, sample pages). Photo source: Judith Salecich.

Evelyn Maud Beaumont was one of approximately 27,000 women between the ages of 18 and 40 who enrolled in the WAAAF during World War II.

The WAAAF was the largest of Australia’s World War II women’s services. It was formed in March 1941, after much lobbying by women who were keen to serve their country in this way and by the Chief of the Air Staff who wanted to release men serving in Australia for overseas service. [Ref. 1]

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“Join the WAAAF”. Australian World War II recruitment poster by James Northfield. Source: Australian War Memorial. Public domain.

In October 1941, the Australian Labour Party under Prime Minister John Curtin won government and, in December 1941, Japan entered the war. In a broadcast to the nation on 8 December 1941, Mr Curtin exhorted the Australian people [Ref. 2]:

“Give of your best in the service of this nation. There is a place and part for all of us. Each must take his or her place in the service of the nation, for the nation itself is in peril. This is our darkest hour. Let that be fully realised. Our efforts in the past two years must be as nothing compared with the efforts we must now put forward.”

Like many Australians, Evelyn was eager to play her part in the war effort. At the time she was living with her parents on their property at Rannes, 65 miles (104 km) southwest of Rockhampton, Central Queensland. Mobile recruiting units travelled from the capital cities to country centres, including Rockhampton. Evelyn’s service records show that she applied to join the WAAAF on three occasions (May 1942, July 1942, August 1942). Clearly, she was keen to join and didn’t give up. On the third occasion she was successful.

Evelyn enrolled in the WAAAF at RAAF No. 3 Recruiting Centre Brisbane on 17 September 1942.

By this time, about 10,000 women had joined the service. At enrolment, in response to questions put to her, Evelyn made the following declaration [Ref. 3]:

“I, Evelyn Maud Beaumont, do solemnly declare that the above answers made by me to the above questions are true, and that I am willing to fulfil the engagements made, and that I thoroughly understand and accept the conditions governing enrolment, promotion, remuster, transfer and discharge from the Service.”

Evelyn was 26 years old when she joined the WAAAF. Her rank was Aircraftwoman (ACW) Level 1 and her “mustering” (trade or occupation) was “clerk signals”. Prior to joining the WAAAF, Evelyn worked for 5 years in Rockhampton as a dressmaker.

ACW Beaumont, a “rookie”

For Evelyn, a new recruit or “rookie”, induction came in two stages. The first was general training undertaken by all new recruits; the second was training specific to her mustering (clerk signals).

The day after enrolling, Evelyn travelled by train to Sydney for 4 weeks of “rookies training”. She was one of hundreds of rookies sent to No. 2 WAAAF Recruitment Depot, Bradfield Park (today’s Sydney suburb of Lindfield). The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) set up the training station at Bradfield Park in 1940 and, in March 1942, the WAAAF depot was added as a lodger unit. Men and women recruits were trained at Bradfield Park. The training included drill, physical training, lectures and organised study.

At Bradfield Park, Evelyn was issued with uniforms, clothing and personal items. The official “kit” included a kit bag, 1 thick blue greatcoat, 1 waterproof coat, 1 woollen cardigan, 3 pairs cotton lisle stockings, 2 pairs of ankle socks and gloves, 2 pairs blue bloomers, 2 pairs khaki bloomers, 3 pairs cotton briefs, 2 cotton singlets, 2 woollen singlets, 1 pair overalls, 1 blue service cap, 1 summer khaki felt hat, hat badge, 2 pairs shoes, 1 pair sandshoes, 2 khaki skirts, 2 khaki shirts, 1 pair khaki shorts, 3 blue-grey shirts, 1 black tie, 1 navy blue wool skirt and jacket, comb, toothbrush, clothes brush, shoe brush and 3 towels. [Ref. 4, 5]

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Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force kit bag (93246 J M Freudenstein). Photo source: Australian War Memorial. Public domain.

In addition, each recruit received a cash grant of ₤3 (about $220 today) to purchase pyjamas, dressing gowns, slippers, foundation garments and other items of personal clothing. They were provided with 35 ration coupons to cover these purchases. By the time Evelyn joined the WAAAF, the Curtin Government had introduced food and clothing rationing. Rationing of clothing commenced in June 1942 and continued until June 1948. Each adult was entitled to a total of 112 clothing coupons per year. [Ref. 6]

Evelyn always wore her WAAAF uniform with pride.

She often told me so and it is evident from her many photographs.

The WAAAFs had three types of uniform: tropical, winter and working dress uniforms. The tropical dress uniform comprised a khaki cotton drill straight skirt (or shorts), khaki cotton drill short-sleeved shirt, black tie, flesh-coloured stockings, black shoes and fur felt hat.

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1942. New WAAAF recruit ACW Evelyn Beaumont proudly wearing her summer dress uniform. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

The winter dress uniform consisted of a smart tailored two-piece dark navy blue skirt and jacket, pale blue-grey shirt, black tie and dark navy blue cap. The straight skirt was made from woollen serge fabric and unlined. The matching single-breasted belted jacket was fastened left over right (the men’s way). It had long sleeves and four front pockets. The cap, also made from woollen serge fabric, had a visor at the front and a flap that folded upwards at the back. Flesh-coloured stockings and black shoes completed the uniform. [Ref. 7]

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1943. ACW Evelyn Beaumont in her WAAAF winter dress uniform. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

The working dress uniform comprised khaki cotton drill overalls (“jeans”), khaki shirt, and beret.

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1943. Victoria Park Barracks. Evelyn with two fellow WAAAFs in working dress uniform. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

“Rookie” training at Bradfield Park

At Bradfield Park trainees were housed in large dormitory-style huts. The huts were unlined and cold. Evelyn told me that when she arrived, she was given a big hessian bag, the size of a single bed, which she had to fill with straw to make her mattress. It was called a “palliasse”. The bed had an iron frame and wire mesh base. She was provided with four blankets and a pillow. There were no sheets. The mattress and blankets had to be folded in a certain way and placed at the bottom of the bed each morning, ready for inspection. The following photograph gives us some idea of these conditions.

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‘Mount Gambier, SA. 1943-07-14. Interior of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) sleeping quarters at No. 2 Air Observers School, RAAF barracks.’ Photo source: Australian War Memorial. Public domain.

As a trainee, Evelyn’s day went something like this. At 0600 hours a shrill whistle announced that it was time to get up, get dressed, fold her blankets and palliasse and tidy her sleeping area. Breakfast was served at 0645 hours. From 0715 hours, there was a roster for cleaning duties (“fatigues”), which included sweeping and scrubbing the shower huts and tidying the grounds. Parade was at 0800 hours. This was part of the daily drill. After parade, there were lectures until morning tea (1015 hours). At 1030 hours, trainees returned to the parade ground for drill instruction until lunch at 1200 hours. At 1300 hours, it was back to the parade ground for more drill, games and exercises, then more drill until afternoon tea (1515 hours). From 1530 hours until 1700 hours (dinner time) trainees attended lectures. After dinner they had free time until lights out at 2200 hours. [Ref. 8, 9]

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‘A group of WAAAF airwomen hurdling benches during a period of physical training at No. 5 WAAAF Depot RAAF, Bradfield Park.’ Source: Australian War Memorial. Public domain.

Drill instruction was a major part of a rookie’s induction. What did Evelyn think about it? As far as I can ascertain, she liked it! Evelyn grew up in a time when life generally was tough and regimented, so she expected as much. Drill was about discipline, teaching the recruits to take orders smartly, move precisely, think quickly and work as a group, not as individuals. And, for young men and women like Evelyn, it was good physical training and exercise.

“The greatest women’s march in Australia’s history”

After 4 weeks at Bradfield Park and having passed their rookies’ exams, on Friday 16 October 1942, Evelyn and her fellow rookies had their “passing out” parade. This event was significant for Evelyn, but the one that took place the next day had a greater impact on her.

On Saturday 17 October 1942, Evelyn participated in “the greatest women’s march in Australia’s history”. She was one of 2500 Australian servicewomen, including 1000 WAAAFs, who marched through the streets of Sydney that day, amidst the cheers and applause of an estimated 250,000 onlookers. The Minister for the Army (Mr Forde) and the Minister for Air (Mr Drakeford), who were among the onlookers, described the march as “a wonderful inspiration to a 100 per cent war effort and a great morale builder”. They were right: Whenever Evelyn recalled her WAAAF days, she would recount this event with enormous pride and gratification. Her wartime memorabilia included numerous newspaper cuttings and the following photograph of the march. [Ref. 10, 11, 12]

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1942, October 17. 2500 servicewomen march through the streets of Sydney: Evelyn is in the 7th row, right hand side of the squad pictured. Source: Proposch Family archives. Public domain.

Induction stage two: Point Cook

The next day Evelyn left for Point Cook (Victoria), where she was to receive instruction in her assigned mustering, clerk signals. The RAAF Base Point Cook, the first military aviation base to be established in Australia, was the focus of RAAF (and WAAAF) training during World War II. The airbase occupies an area of about 250 hectares southwest of Melbourne on the shores of Port Phillip Bay [Ref. 13]. Evelyn attended the Signal School there for 2 weeks, from 20 October 1942.

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Official documentation showing that Evelyn passed her two-stage induction program. Photo source: Judith Salecich.

Evelyn’s first appointment: Headquarters RAAF Command, Brisbane

Once her training at the Signal School was over, Evelyn was appointed to Headquarters RAAF Command, located in the AMP Building at the corner of Queen and Edward Streets, Brisbane. The building also housed the headquarters of the United States (US) General Douglas MacArthur.

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‘AMP Building corner Queen and Edward Streets’. 1950. Photo source: Brisbane City Council.

General Douglas MacArthur became the Supreme Commander of the South-West Pacific Area on 18 April 1942. Initially he set up his headquarters in Melbourne, but in July 1942 he and his staff relocated to Brisbane. The first American soldiers had arrived in Brisbane on 22 December 1941. By mid-1943, there were 150,000 US servicemen in Australia, mostly in and around Brisbane, Rockhampton and Townsville. [Ref. 14, 15].

The US Signals Section was located on the 8th floor of the AMP building and as the WAAAFs used the lifts they would chat with the American servicemen.

Evelyn and her fellow WAAAFs worked on the 7th floor of the AMP building.

For each shift, the staff comprised about 10 wireless telegraphers, 5-6 teleprinters, 4-5 clerks signals (“clerk sigs”) and a telephonist. Wireless telegraphers received and sent morse code messages. Evelyn’s job as a clerk was to “head up the messages”, which were to be sent to New Guinea. These messages were then passed on to the Cypher Office, where staff coded them ready for transmission.

In the following photograph WAAAFs based at Headquarters RAAF Command in 1943 are pictured on “Jacob’s Ladder”, a pedestrian staircase in King Edward Park next to the former Trades Hall, Edward Street, Brisbane. Evelyn is in the 2nd front row, 4th from the right. Her best friend, ACW Joan Evatt, is in the same row, 5th from the right. ACW Dot Ries is in the back row, 6th from the left. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

The WAAAFs employed at Headquarters RAAF Command worked in 8-hour shifts: 0730 – 1530 hours; 1530 – 2330 hours; 2330 – 0730 hours. After a block of night shifts, the women were entitled to 4 days of leave (more about this later). When Evelyn and her colleagues were on night shift, they usually went to a dance first, as they were not due at work until 11.30 pm. They attended the dances in their uniforms. At the end of a night shift, they often had a breakfast of scrambled eggs and coffee at a café in Adelaide Street (near the Coconut Grove dance hall). They also frequented the Anzac Café, in Elizabeth Street, where (according to Evelyn’s colleague Dot Ries) “you could buy a good meal for 1s.3d”.

From time to time the WAAAFs participated in street parades.

At least twice while Evelyn was based in Brisbane, the WAAAFs joined men and women of other Australian services in a march along Brisbane’s city streets. Typically these marches were conducted to promote the war effort and encourage civilians to invest in war bonds. On 8 January 1943, as part of “WAAAF Week”, 600 WAAAF servicewomen (including Evelyn) marched through the streets of Brisbane. The march and display, a first for the WAAAF, was organised to bring the work of the WAAAF to the public and stimulate recruiting. [Ref. 16]

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1943. WAAAF servicewomen marching down Queen Street, Brisbane. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

A personal slant on one of these marches:

Dot McDonald (ACW Dot Ries) recalled working all night (her shift ended at 0730 hours), then “having to march for war bonds” at 0800 hours. Dot told me that the WAAAF, the “junior service”, always marched last. She remembered a spectator saying to her on one occasion, “You look terrible,” to which she snapped, “You would too if you worked all night.” Dot said she was so tired, and her starched uniform, which she had worn for the last 10 hours, was crushed and unkempt.

It is often said “truth is stranger than fiction”. The following tale from Evelyn’s WAAAF days is true.

Evelyn’s friend ACW Joan Evatt’s leather wallet went missing at work. Joan reported it stolen. To catch the thief, the officers decided to use a “dummy” wallet as a plant in the women’s locker room. They put silver nitrate on the coins in the wallet. When Joan saw it, she was elated. Here was her missing wallet! She found it.

As soon as the officers discovered that the “dummy” wallet had been taken, they ordered an inspection. Of course, Joan’s hands were stained black! They had found the culprit. In front of all her colleagues, Joan was accused of theft. Without giving her a chance to explain, the officers ushered her downstairs and “roughed her up” (as Evelyn put it). In Evelyn’s words, “It was just awful.” By the time Joan was able to convince her superiors that the “dummy” was in fact her own wallet, the damage had been done. Joan was a mess.

Evelyn said that Joan sobbed uncontrollably all that night (Joan’s bed was next to hers). Her friend was in such a state that Evelyn had to go and get medical help for her.

This was one incident Evelyn never forgot.

During her time in Brisbane, Evelyn resided at two different locations.

The first was “Whytecliffe”.

The Whytecliffe barracks were located high on a hill off Whytecliffe Street, 6 km from the city centre, in the suburb of Albion. Evelyn lived here for about 7 months.

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1942. “Whytecliffe”, Albion. WAAAF barracks during World War II. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1942. “Whytecliffe”, Albion. A rear view of the main residence. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1942. “Whytecliffe”, Albion. Rear view of the main building, showing kitchen and laundry. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

The property took its name from the large private residence that was built on the site for the Crown Solicitor, Robert Little, in 1875. Whytecliffe had changed hands a number of times since then and, by the 1940s, it was being used as a private hotel and boarding house. The upper level verandahs had been closed in and there were 22 bedrooms. Whytecliffe and adjacent homes were taken over by the WAAAF during World War II as barracks for its servicewomen. [Ref. 17]

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1942. “Whytecliffe”, Albion. WAAAFs making their way to their barracks. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1942. “Whytecliffe”, Albion. Another view of the property. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

The Whytecliffe barracks were not intended as the permanent “home” for rank and file WAAAFs like ACW Evelyn Beaumont. Another location was being prepared for them.

The second: the Victoria Park Barracks.

In June 1943, Evelyn and fellow WAAAFs moved into their new barracks, set among gum trees on the side of a hill overlooking a golf course. The new camp was located in Victoria Park, 27 hectares of undulating land in the Brisbane suburbs of Spring Hill and Herston. A public park, it was taken over by the armed forces for the duration of the war. Besides Australian service men and women (of the RAAF and WAAAF), thousands of American service men and women were based there. In 1942 the Brisbane City Council offered it to the United States Forces in Australia (USFIA) as their Brisbane base.

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‘View over to Brisbane from the hospital at Herston across Victoria Park, looking south, ca. 1936’. Photo source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

The WAAAF barracks at Victoria Park comprised a number of prefabricated huts, an office, two recreation huts, four ablution blocks and laundry facilities. The long brown huts had white roofs and white and cream paintwork. The sleeping huts were built to house 28, but could accommodate 32 if needed. Each hut had 28 windows, which made them quite airy. [Ref. 18]

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1943. Victoria Park Barracks. Evelyn wrote: “A view of the new barracks where I live. I live right up the back, at the back fence.” Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1943. Victoria Park Barracks. Evelyn wrote: “Outside our hut. It shows how the bottom windows open for coolness in summer.” Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

WAAAF servicewomen were responsible for washing and ironing their own clothes. In the new camp, there were plenty of drying lines and, in each of the ablution blocks, there were eight troughs, two coppers and four ironing boards. Dot McDonald (nee Ries) told me that they had to starch and iron their tropical dress uniform (cotton skirt and blouse), which was quite arduous. The ablution blocks were well-equipped. They had hot and cold showers and sewered toilets.

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1943. Victoria Park Barracks. Pictured: Evelyn’s friend Joan Evatt with dog. Evelyn wrote: “The hut (shown) has the showers where we wash, and the lavatories.” Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

Evelyn described her new home-away-from-home as “out among the trees”.

On the back of one of her photographs she wrote, “I live right up the back, at the back fence”. On several occasions, Evelyn and her friends “boiled the billy” and had morning tea “in the bush” at the back of their hut.

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1943. Morning tea in the bush, outside Victoria Park barracks. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

Another time, Evelyn and two of her WAAAF friends had a picnic with three “Yanks” (American servicemen) “out the back” of the Victoria Park barracks. Given the close proximity of their respective barracks, it is not surprising that they met in this way. Evelyn wrote of the picnic “it was not much”, but clearly (as the photos show) the six of them enjoyed their time together.

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1944. The three US servicemen who joined Evelyn and her friends for a picnic. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1944. Picnic “out the back” with three US servicemen. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1944. Three WAAAFs and two of the US servicemen enjoying their picnic “out the back” of their barracks. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

After a block of night shifts, the WAAAFs had 4 days’ leave.

Many, like Evelyn, took the opportunity to spend a few days away from the barracks, with friends or family, in a more homely environment. Two hostels in Brisbane that opened in early 1943 catered especially for servicewomen on leave and provided an ideal setting.

One was Kelvin House.

It was located at 28 Adelaide Street, between the Brisbane City Hall and the rear of Lennon’s Hotel. Two floors of the building were set aside as a hostel for servicewomen on leave in Brisbane. It was operated by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) with financial assistance from the Australian Comforts Fund and the Queensland Patriotic Fund. Kelvin House (also known as Kelvin Leave House) was officially opened on 19 March 1943. It could house approximately 100 servicewomen. [Ref. 19]

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‘Kelvin House – 28 Adelaide Street – behind City Hall’. Photo source: Brisbane City Council.

Another was Wairuna Hostel, located in Hampstead Road, Highgate Hill.

Evelyn described Wairuna as “a lovely old home”. A former private residence, “Wairuna” was purchased in December 1942 by the Presbyterian and Methodist Welfare Association for the express purpose of providing a “home-away-from-home” for servicewomen on leave in Brisbane. It opened on 12 February 1943. This huge house was transformed to accommodate 60 women. It comprised six dormitories, a matron’s room, lounge and dining rooms, servery, kitchens and bathrooms. A verandah extended the entire length of the home. [Ref. 20, 21]

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1943. Wairuna Hostel, Highgate Hill. Joan Evatt is pictured standing on the front steps.
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1943. On leave, at Wairuna Hostel, Highgate Hill. Evelyn is pictured on the front stairs.

Evelyn and her WAAAF companions stayed at Wairuna once or twice. These photographs of the women at Wairuna (Evelyn wrote on the back of one of them) “were taken with the camera I had given to me”. It was a Kodak brownie box camera. Evelyn told me that a soldier leaving for New Guinea gave it to her. “I’ll never forget that,” she said. Indeed, all the photographs (“snapshots”) Evelyn took during her WAAAF days were taken with this precious camera.

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1943. On leave at Wairuna Hostel, Highgate Hill. Evelyn wrote on the back of this photograph: “A crowd of the girls that were at Wairuna. They all work with me.” Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1943. On leave at Wairuna Hostel. Evelyn with Jean Pollock and Joan Evatt. Evelyn wrote on the back of one of the photos: “I’m wearing my new dress I made.” Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

Although life in the WAAAF may have been austere and highly regimented, Evelyn’s WAAAF years were filled with novelty and delight.

During her time in the WAAAF, Evelyn visited numerous places she had never been before, gained new work skills and experience and made many new friends (two of whom became lifelong friends).

Prior to enrolling in the WAAAF, Evelyn had never been to Brisbane, let alone Sydney or Melbourne. She was a country girl, who had worked for a number of years in Rockhampton, a city of about 30,000. Evelyn had no experience of living and working in a big city. She had never worked in an office and had no experience of shift work prior to her appointment to Headquarters RAAF Command.

On days off, Evelyn and her colleagues went on outings together.

This was their opportunity to visit some of the attractions Brisbane and district had to offer. In Brisbane they visited the Botanic Gardens, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and Manly. Further afield they made day trips to Redcliffe, Southport and Ipswich.

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1943. On an outing to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1943. Outing to Manly, Brisbane. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

On occasions, the women were joined by US servicemen. Unlike their Australian counterparts, the American soldiers sought the company of the Australian servicewomen. According to Evelyn, “the Australian men didn’t like us (WAAAFs) very much.”

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1944. Outing to Southport, with US soldiers. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1944. Thank you letter from US servicemen to WAAAF “mermaids”.

On Sunday evenings, when off-duty, Evelyn and friend Joan Evatt attended various church services in the city. In so doing, they experienced several different styles of Christian worship and expressions of faith, which were instructional for both of them. More often than not, the church minister and his wife invited them home for supper, a demonstration of hospitality that made a lasting impression on the young women. I know, because my mother always spoke wistfully about this experience.

Dancing was a popular form of entertainment in Brisbane during the 1940s.

Evelyn loved to dance. Having grown up in country Queensland, Evelyn couldn’t remember a time when she and her family didn’t go to the dances. In fact, as I wrote in My mother, a young woman (May 6, 2016), on the same day she enrolled in the WAAAF, Evelyn went to a dance! She and a friend who also enrolled that day sought out Brisbane’s Coconut Grove, a very popular Brisbane dance hall in those days.

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Evelyn wrote on the back of this photo: “With love to Mother from Ev, taken at the Coconut Grove dance on 17th Sept 1942, where I had a lovely time.” Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

During the 1940s, dances were held at various venues throughout the city. They included the City Hall (King George Square), Coconut Grove (opposite David Jones’ in Adelaide Street), Railway Institute (Edward Street, above Central Station), Caledonian Hall (Elizabeth Street), Trades Hall (Edward Street) and the Trocadero (Melbourne Street, South Brisbane). The Trocadero, for example, was huge. It had a dance floor that catered for as many as 2000 patrons and featured a full orchestra. Dances at the Trocadero and Coconut Grove venues were held every night, except Sunday. [Ref. 22]

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Billo Smith’s Dance Band performing at the Trocadero dance hall, Brisbane, ca. 1943. Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Public domain.
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PHOTO: ‘King George Square and Brisbane City Hall during World War II’. Photo source: Brisbane City Council.

Evelyn loved going to the dances at the City Hall.

They were held two or three nights each week and every Saturday night (except when any special entertainment was on that night) and on Sunday nights when advertised. Thousands of American and Australian servicemen and servicewomen, and civilians, attended these dances. I’m sure Brisbane’s dances spawned many a wartime romance.

It was at one of these dances, in October or November 1943, that Evelyn met Lieutenant William (“Bill”) Proposch, an officer in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF). This is how it happened.

Evelyn and friend Joan were rostered on the evening shift so, while they waited for their shift to start, they went to the dance at the City Hall. Bill said to Joan, “I’d like to meet that girl” (meaning Evelyn), so Joan obliged. When Evelyn left to go to work, Bill asked if he could meet her “down town” the next day. Evelyn agreed. She didn’t need much persuading. However, she soon learnt that Bill was about to return to New Guinea, so they exchanged details and promised to correspond with each other.

In late 1943 and early 1944, Evelyn’s brother and parents visited Brisbane, but for very different reasons.

First, Evelyn’s youngest brother Allan joined the RAAF. He had just turned 19 when he enlisted in Brisbane on 21 September 1943. Prior to enlisting, Allan and his older brother Leslie had been members of the local Volunteer Defence Corps. Evelyn, now 27, has been in the WAAAF for one year.

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1943, September. Evelyn and brother Allan, a new RAAF recruit. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

Evelyn remembered Allan visiting her in hospital in Brisbane around the time he enlisted in the RAAF. She had been admitted to the RAAF Hospital at Sandgate, for isolation and convalescence. She had a bout of the measles! Evelyn spent 10 days in hospital, from 18-28 September 1943. She recalled having sore eyes and the medical staff keeping the blinds pulled and the room dark.

Allan was posted to the RAAF Training School at Point Cook (Victoria), where he trained as a technician and armourer. He was there for 6 months until April 1944, when he was assigned to overseas service with the 8th Squadron RAAF in New Guinea. There he remained until the end of the war. A leading aircraftman, he was discharged from the RAAF on 8 February 1946.

Second, in early 1944, Evelyn’s father Donald took ill. He had bowel cancer and he and Flora (Evelyn’s mother) came to Brisbane for Donald to undergo surgery. Evelyn recounted visiting her father in hospital and the staff teasing her and calling her “Sergeant Major”. Of course, Evelyn was delighted to see her parents again and spend time with them, but she was greatly disturbed to learn of her father’s illness.

Evelyn’s parents remained in Brisbane for some time after Donald’s operation and, during that time, as Donald regained his strength, Evelyn accompanied her parents on a number of outings. I think it was their first stay in Brisbane. One of the places they visited with Evelyn was the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary at Fig Tree Pocket.

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1944. Evelyn with her parents, when they came to Brisbane. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1944. Evelyn took her parents to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

Because of her father’s illness, Evelyn applied for a transfer to Rockhampton.

Evelyn wanted to be closer to her parents, who lived about 2 hours’ drive by car southwest of Rockhampton. Happily, her application was successful.

Evelyn performed her last shift at Headquarters RAAF Command on 21 March 1944. I’m sure she was sad to be leaving her post in Brisbane, after establishing herself in her role, embracing city life and making many special friends.

However, new challenges, opportunities and friendships awaited Evelyn at the RAAF No. 21 Operational Base Unit in Rockhampton. I will share these with you in My mother’s years in the WAAAF (Part 2): Rockhampton, coming soon to my blog.


I am deeply indebted to my late mother, Evelyn, who shared her WAAAF stories with me many times throughout her long life. In particular, I am so thankful for her extensive collection of WAAAF photographs and memorabilia, which she so lovingly preserved and passed on to me.

Similarly, I acknowledge with much gratitude, the contribution of Dot McDonald (nee Ries) who shared her WAAAF stories with me and who identified people and places in Evelyn’s photographs when my mother could no longer do so.


  1. Australia at War (website). Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) in Australia during WW2.
  2. Australian Screen: An NFSA website. Curtin Speech: Japan Enters Second World War (1941).
  3. National Archives of Australia. Defence Service Records. Personal Record of Service – Airwomen. Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force. Evelyn Maud Beaumont. No. 100791.
  4. What WAAAFs receive in their clothing issues. In Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), Friday 10 October 1941, page 7.
  5. Clothes for WAAAF. More Liberal Issue. In West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 -1954), Friday 7 August 1942, page 3.
  6. Queensland Government. Queensland WWII Historical Places (website). Rationing.
  7. Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Australian Dress Register (website). Marjorie Boyling WAAAF uniform.
  8. Show ‘Em How You March! WAAAF trainees are proud to be in the Service. (Photographs and article.) In Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Saturday 2 May 1942, page 13.
  9. A WAAAF tells of her training experiences. In Bunyip (Gawler, SA : 1863 – 1954), Friday 24 July 1942, page 4.
  10. 250,000 Cheer Girls In Stirring City March. (Photograph and article.) In Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Saturday 17 October 1942, page 3.
  11. Paper Showers Greet 2500 Servicewomen. (Photograph and article.) In Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 18 October 1942, page 3. 
  12. Sidelights On The Big March. In Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 18 October 1942, page 8. 
  13. Australian Government. Department of Environment and Energy. Australia’s National Heritage List (website). National Heritage Places – Point Cook Air Base.
  14. Australian War Memorial (website). Memorial articles. United States forces in Australia.
  15. National Archives of Australia. The collection (online). United States forces in Queensland, 1941–45 – Fact sheet 234.
  16. Eight flights of WAAAF in March Tomorrow. In Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), Thursday 7 January 1943, page 4.
  17. Australia at War (website). “Whytecliffe”, Whytecliffe Street, Albion, Brisbane. Commandeered by the military for WAAAF Barracks during WW2.
  18. Gum trees shade new WAAAF camp.  In Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), Friday 25 June 1943, page 4. 
  19. Australia at War (website). “Kelvin House” 28 Adelaide Street, Brisbane Hostel for military servicewomen located near City Hall, Brisbane, QLD during WW2.
  20. New hostel for service girls. In Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), Thursday 4 February 1943, page 4.
  21. Blankets for hostel. (Photograph and article.) In Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), Thursday 4 February 1943, page 4.
  22. Australia at War (website). Dances, bands, concerts, vaudeville and entertainment in Australia during WW2.
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Judith Salecich

Writer, researcher, former secondary and tertiary teacher and public servant, wife, mother, grandmother, child of God, photography enthusiast, lover of life, history, food and all things creative.

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20 thoughts on “My mother’s years in the WAAAF (Part 1): Brisbane”

    • Lorna, I’m glad you read Evelyn’s story and appreciated it. Yes, she had many different life experiences, including the ones outlined in this story. I am much in awe of them. Thanks for providing feedback. Love, Judy. xx

  1. Judy what an interesting life your Mum had. To live until she was in her 90’s is quite
    remarkable. I must admit it takes time to read it all. There would not be too many
    women having a life with so much going on. Really quite remarkable.


  2. What a great read. Thank you for sharing. Would you be interested in sharing this story on the WAAAF Facebook Page, managed by a former WAAAF (she is 94)?

  3. It has been wonderful to read your mother’s story, on her time in the Air Force. It’s so good for your family history! I am trying to put together a book, that my belated father wrote, about his time with the Army Medical Corps, both here and in New Guinea. It will take me a long time but I know it’ll be worth it; just like your mothers book is so worth it. You have now given me more impetus to get the book finished. Thank you so much!

    • Dear Pauline. Thank you so much for letting me know about your project. I’m sure it will be rewarding for you to undertake, and more so to complete. I wish you well in continuing with it. I’m glad my mother’s story has given you a renewed impetus. Kind regards, Judy.

  4. Hi there Judith, have just come across this webpage, after stumbling across RAAF Command Brisbane. I believe that your Mum and my Mum worked together and I think I have identified her in the group photo.

    Would love to know if you have any details.

    Have absolutely loved reading all about your mum’s experiences. It has made it so much more real for me.

  5. Thank you Judy for such a wonderful story about your mother’s time in the WAAF. It was good she shared all this information with you. Sometimes we leave it too late to talk to our parents about when they were younger. I am looking forward to the next instalment about your mother’s life.

    • Elaine, thank you for taking the time to read my story. Yes, I am really thankful Evelyn told me about her experiences, and that I made contact with her colleague, Dot McDonald (nee Reis), who was able to fill in the gaps when my mother could no longer remember. Also, I treasure all the amazing photographs Evelyn kept, some of which I have included in this story. Best wishes, Judy.

  6. Judith, have just read the WAAAF story re your Mum. My Mum was also in the WAAAF. So I could relate many of the things she has said to your Mum’s experiences. Like your Mum, she served at General McArthur’s headquarters in Queen St, was in the Victoria Park barracks and spent some off duty time at Wairuna. She will be 96 this year. She is also in the photo in your story where they are standing at the bottom of Jacob’s ladder. She is third row back, second from right. Up until about4 or 5 years ago, she did do some ANZAC Day marches, but now is not quite up to it. I hope you do not mind, but I have copied your Mum’s story and will give it to my Mum to read, It will bring back a lot of fond memories for her. Mum joined WAAAF on 2 Mar 1943 and was discharged on 20 Jun 1945. It will be interesting to see if she knew your Mum. We have quite a few photos (most informal) of her time in the WAAAF.

    • Wayne, it’s wonderful to read about your mother, that she was also a member of the WAAAF. It’s possible that our mothers crossed paths, that they knew each other. Thanks for sharing with me a little about her. Of course, you are welcome to share my mother’s story with her – I hope she finds it encouraging and brings back lots of fond memories. Kind regards, Judy.

  7. Judith, I’m sure they knew each other. Mum recalls your Mum’s name. but cannot specifically remember her. In Mum’s photos of her friends, there are photos of Jean Pollock and Joan Evatt – both were also friends with your Mum. After reading your story and seeing Mum’s reaction, I am now trying to put together a similar story of my Mum’s time in the WAAAF for my family. If you do not mind, I will .probably make reference to parts of your article. Your list of references has also been very interesting.

  8. Sadly, my mother never shared any of her life with us and we were ignorant of her sadness at the loss of her career – her first child was born when the RAAF offered that women could re-apply to join. My mother’s lifelong regret & frustration was served up to us without expalnation and I have come to realize it was because of her bitter disappointment over that lost career [& my psychopatholocal father’s lies]. I only found out about the WAAAF when they wrote of the 70th Anniversay luncheon when the WAAAF members would be awarded certicates & etc. By that time, without any Veteran’s health benefits, my mother was in a nursing home with Dementia. So, I know very little but would like to know more. Her name was Valerie Mary Thyrza DEANE.

  9. Hello Judy,

    I wonder if your research has revealed any information regarding a WAAAF Hazel Lorraine Morton who served in 1944/45 from Rockhampton. I am trying to assist her daughter to locate records or photos of her service life. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

  10. Hello. Thank you for your information about the WAAAF. I did not know details of the WAAAF experience for women in Brisbane – my grandmother was one of these women. It was very exciting to see her in the group photo on the steps. I have never seen this photo. She is in the second row, third from the left. She was Gloria Somers (may have been Uhlmann by then??). Thank you so much for sharing this and giving me the opportunity to learn about the WAAAF experience.

  11. Hello Judy

    I am hoping you maybe able to assist me with the WAAFF Facebook page?

    My great grandmother was ACW based in Brisbane and I am about to compile a short history for a commemoration of her 100th Birthday next April 23rd.

    Her name Muriel Patteson
    (Nee Lawlor) #101881

    Would be happy to recieve some tips on further research or contacts on Brisbane to find her former unit/s or possible unit members still living.

    Many thanks


  12. Enjoyed reading this story and brought back many memories, Sandgate,Whytecliffs, AMP and to see great photos of the WAAAF MARCHING. Was many years ago but memories are precious as I approach 100 this coming year 2022.


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