This story is an Anzac Day tribute to my late mother, Evelyn Proposch (nee Beaumont), who was a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) during World War II. It’s the second part of a two-part series. The first part, My mother’s years in the WAAAF (Part 1): Brisbane, which I posted on my blog for Anzac Day last year (22 April 2018), documented Evelyn’s first posting, Brisbane. This part focuses on Evelyn’s second posting, Rockhampton.

Summary of Part 1: Brisbane

Evelyn Maud Beaumont enrolled in the WAAAF at No. 3 Recruiting Centre, Brisbane, on 17 September 1942. Evelyn’s rank was Aircraftwoman (ACW) Level 1 and her “mustering” (occupation or trade) was “clerk signals”. [Ref. 1] At 26 years of age, Evelyn was one of approximately 27,000 single women between the ages of 18 and 40 who enrolled in the WAAAF during World War II. [2]

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1942. ACW Evelyn Beaumont, pictured soon after she joined the WAAAF. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

Like many Australians, Evelyn was eager to play her part in the war effort. Prior to enrolling in the WAAAF, she was living at home with her parents on their property at Rannes, 65 miles (104 km) southwest of Rockhampton, in Central Queensland.

Mobile recruiting units travelled throughout Australia from the capital cities to country centres, such as 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.

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WAAAF recruiting article in Rockhampton’s Morning Bulletin, Saturday 18 July 1942, page 4.

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. [3] By the time Evelyn signed up, about 10,000 women had joined the service.

After completing her “rookies” training, namely four weeks at Bradfield Park (Sydney, New South Wales) followed by two weeks at Point Cook (Victoria), Evelyn took up her appointment as clerk signals, RAAF Command Headquarters, Brisbane (Queensland). Here Evelyn remained for 16 months, from November 1942 until March 1944.

In early 1944, Evelyn applied for a transfer on compassionate grounds to the RAAF 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton. Her father Donald was unwell (he had been diagnosed with cancer), so she wanted to be closer to her parents. Evelyn’s application was successful. She took up her new appointment at Rockhampton on 23 April 1944.

NOTE: A full list of the references I used in preparing this story is found at the end of the post. References are numbered and displayed throughout the text in brackets [X].

21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Operational Base, Rockhampton,  was established on 2 May 1942, when the RAAF took control of the Rockhampton (“Connor Park”) aerodrome. Later on, the base was renamed 21 Operational Base Unit (21 OBU). The city’s airfield became part of the ferry route from Brisbane to Townsville for RAAF and United States of America Air Force (USAAF) aircraft. [4]

Facilities at the airport were substantially upgraded and a control tower and radio station were built. The RAAF carried out work and put plans in place to allow rapid demolition of the runways if required. During the war, the airfield had three runways. The third runway had a taxiway and dispersal area at the north-western end of the airfield. [5]

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1944. RAAF 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton. Airport dispersal area. Photo source: Proposch Family archives. .

A number of high-profile public figures visited the base.

On 28 May 1942, soon after the unit was established, General Blamey, Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces, flew in to inspect personnel. [6] Nearly a year later, on 2 March 1943, General Krueger, Commander of the United States (US) 6th Army, arrived to inspect the work of US Army crews who had set up machine guns on the airfield as anti-aircraft defence. [7]

On 9 September 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the US president Franklin D Roosevelt, flew into Rockhampton. She was touring Australia, visiting US troops and, on behalf of the president and herself, thanking them for their contribution to the war effort. Between mid-1942 and early 1944, tens of thousands of US soldiers (two of the four US Army Divisions that trained in Queensland) were based at Rockhampton. “Camp Rockhampton”, as it was called, encompassed a large area across Rockhampton city to the north and east towards Yeppoon. [8]

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1943, 9 September. Eleanor Roosevelt arriving at Rockhampton airport. Photo source: State Library of Queensland (John Oxley Library). Public domain.

In December 1943, US film star Gary Cooper arrived at the Rockhampton airport. Along with other well-known film stars Una Merkel and Phyllis Brooks, he came to entertain the US soldiers based in the area. [9]

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1943. Rockhampton Airport. Gary Cooper’s (USA filmstar) arrival. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

Each of these visits (and others) took place before Evelyn arrived at 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton. But she heard about them. One of her colleagues gave her the photo (above) showing Gary Cooper’s arrival at the Rockhampton airport and she added it to her already extensive WAAAF photo collection.

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Evelyn’s WAAAF “snapshot” album (inside, sample pages, Rockhampton period). Photo source: Judith Salecich.

Evelyn’s Rockhampton “home” and housemates

At Rockhampton, there were no barracks for the RAAF men or WAAAF women. The relatively small number of personnel stationed at Rockhampton did not warrant a facility like that erected at Victoria Park in Brisbane (where Evelyn had been living since June 1943). The RAAF men based at Rockhampton resided in a “tent city” they erected near the airport. [10] The women (or at least some of them, Evelyn included) lived in an old highset weatherboard house in West Rockhampton, located over the road from the army barracks, in walking distance of the Rockhampton aerodrome.

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1944-1945. RAAF 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton. The house in which Evelyn lived. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

Of the women who lived in the house, two became Evelyn’s close friends. One was ACW Marjorie Faith (“Faye”) Oliphant, from Brisbane; the other Corporal Mabel (“Mabs”) Davie, from Bristol, England. Like many of the women brought together during their war service, age was no barrier to friendship. Evelyn was four years older than Faye and Mabs was six years older than Evelyn!

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1944. RAAF 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton. ACW Faye Oliphant, Evelyn’s friend and colleague. Photo source: Private collection.
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1944. RAAF 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton. ACW Evelyn Beaumont (right) with Corporal Mabs Davie. Photo source: Private collection.

What the WAAAF women did

Women who enrolled in the WAAAF took up one of 73 different musterings (occupations or trades). These ranged from highly skilled technical occupations such as draftswoman, electrician, fitter or instrument maker through to unskilled positions such as aircraft hand, cook’s assistant, office orderly or stores hand. Between these two extremes, musterings included a range of skilled and semi-skilled clerical, medical, transport, catering, equipment, cyphering, signals and radar fields of employment. It is worth noting that the WAAAF was Australia’s first military organization for women that allowed them to work in fields previously only offered to men. [11]

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c. 1944. Two members of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) check radio equipment in the cockpit of an aircraft. Photo source: Australian War Memorial website. Public domain.

Here’s what a recruitment officer who visited Rockhampton in 1943 had to say about the WAAAF women’s contribution to the war effort [12]:

When you read in the newspapers that ‘a successful attack was made against such and such an aerodrome’, we congratulate our boys and leave it at that. We seldom think to congratulate that vast army of ground staff whose job it is to forward to our pilots the necessary bombs to demolish their targets, see that their tropical equipment is sound and complete and have in readiness replacements of machines, parts and equipment to replace those damaged or lost, to have nuts and bolts, flying kits and instruments, bullets and batteries, maps and photographs, where they are wanted, when they are wanted,” said Flight Officer Lilias B. Dow yesterday.

The full credit of this work lies in the efficient cooperation of ground staff and air crew personnel and to no small measure to the part being played by the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force in taking over the work previously done by men who are now working in forward areas.

In most aspects women in the WAAAF were treated the same as the RAAF men.

But there were a couple of significant differences. One concerned pay and entitlements; the other an individual’s marital state. Airwomen were allowed to work in many of the same occupations as airmen (apart from pilot), but were paid only two-thirds of the RAAF pay for equivalent positions. Furthermore WAAAF officers were paid a good deal less than RAAF officers of equal rank. Airwomen (in contrast to airmen) had to be single. If a serving woman married, she was not allowed to remain in the WAAAF. [13]

At Rockhampton, as in Brisbane, Evelyn performed clerical duties. She worked as a clerk signals, classified as Group 4 (Group 5 was the lowest classification). Her daily pay was five shillings (5/-), equivalent to about $18 today. The daily pay for a male doing the same job was seven shillings and sixpence (7/6), about $27. [14] Clerk signals was not a highly skilled occupation. However, given that Evelyn had no clerical experience prior to joining the WAAAF (she was a dressmaker), she had to be trained to do the job. The skills required were attention to detail, neat legible handwriting and speed and accuracy in working with numbers. Evelyn had all these skills.

Evelyn’s colleague Faye Oliphant worked as a telegraphist. Prior to joining the WAAAF, Faye was employed as a clerk, so she readily adapted to her WAAAF mustering. Faye, from Sherwood (Brisbane), joined the WAAAF on 29 April 1942. Like Evelyn, her first appointment was to Brisbane, but not for long. In October 1942, Faye moved to Garbutt, Townsville, where she worked for the next 13 months. In November 1943, Faye moved again, to Rockhampton, where she served for the next two years, until November 1945.

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1944. Aircraftwoman Barbara Stanes of Malvern, Vic, WAAAF telegraphist at Garbutt airfield, Townsville, Queensland. Photo source: Australian War Memorial. Public domain.

The purpose of 21 Operational Base Unit (21 OBU)

The main purpose of 21 Operational Base Unit was to provide for transient personnel and to refuel and service visiting aircraft. During Evelyn’s posting at Rockhampton, she saw many different aircraft come and go. Evelyn included each of the following photographs of aircraft at the Rockhampton airport in her WAAAF album.

US military aircraft

The Douglas C-47 was a US-built military transport aircraft developed from the civilian Douglas DC-3 airliner. More than 10,000 were manufactured during World War II. These aircraft were used extensively by the Allies during the war, including campaigns in New Guinea.

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1944. RAAF 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton. Douglas C47 aircraft. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning, with its distinctive twin booms, was manufactured for the US Army from 1939. It was a high-altitude interceptor fighter-bomber known for its speed, firepower and range. Over 9000 were built during World War II and they served in all theatres of the war. The USA armed forces used the Lockheed P-38 Lightning extensively in its Pacific campaigns.

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1944. RAAF 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton. Lockheed Lightning aircraft. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

The B-24 Liberator was a huge US heavy bomber aircraft. It carried a crew of up to 10. Its wing design enabled the aircraft to have a high cruise speed, long range and carry a heavy bomb load. The USA manufactured approximately 18,500 of these bombers during World War II, making them the most produced of all US military aircraft in history. The B-24 was used by every branch of the US armed forces and in all theatres of operations during World War II. Note the white elephant painted on the side of the one in the photograph.

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1944. RAAF 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton. Liberator. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

British-made military aircraft

The Avro Anson was a British-made twin-engine, multi-purpose aircraft used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) before, during and after World War II. The RAAF bought a large number of these aircraft in the 1930s. During the war, the RAAF used Avro Anson aircraft to give pilots practice in flying multi-engine aeroplanes and for navigation and radio training.

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1944. RAAF 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton. Avro Anson. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

A number of Spitfires landed at Rockhampton. These British-made single-seat fighter planes were the most widely-produced and strategically important of all Britain’s World War II aircraft. The Allies employed them in every theatre of the war, although they are most remembered for the part they played in the Battle of Britain (1940-1941).

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1944. RAAF 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton. Spitfires. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

In case of a crash or fire

Whenever a plane landed at the airport, a fire tender was on guard. Before Evelyn’s time at Rockhampton, on 7 October 1942, a spectacular accident occurred at the Rockhampton airport. A Lockheed 14 (VH-CXK) from the USAAF 22 Troop Carrier Squadron crashed on landing and was unable to be saved. The resulting fire completely destroyed the plane. The crew of four and six passengers escaped by jumping through the windows. All ten sustained burns, two serious enough to require hospitalization. [15]

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1944. RAAF 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton. Airport fire tender. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

“G for George” Lancaster Bomber

Without doubt the most famous aircraft to visit Rockhampton during Evelyn’s time was the Avro Lancaster affectionately known as “G for George”. A British-made four-engine heavy bomber aircraft, “G for George” had completed 90 successful wartime operations over Europe. On 22 April 1944, the RAF withdrew it from operations. In mid-1944 the RAF offered this now-retired “warrior” to the Australian Government, which planned to use the plane in two victory loan tours then put it on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. [16]

“G for George” landed at the Rockhampton airport at 3.00 pm on Friday 10 November 1944. Squadron Leader E A Hudson, of Rockhampton, captained the plane. He was greeted at the airport by his proud father and family and, along with his crew, was warmly welcomed by the large crowd of onlookers.

The next day Squadron Leader Hudson and his crew visited Yeppoon and the local beaches and attended a continuous round of functions hosted by public groups and citizens at Yeppoon and Rockhampton. On Sunday morning a large crowd gathered at the Rockhampton airport to witness the plane’s departure. The Mayor, Mr H Jeffries, farewelled the crew on behalf of the city. After circling the city several times, “G for George” flew over Emu Park and Yeppoon as it headed back to Amberley airport (near Brisbane). [17]

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1944, November. RAAF 21 Operational Base Unit, Rockhampton WAAAFs pose with G for George, Lancaster bomber. Evelyn is pictured standing, 2nd from the left. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

Rockhampton’s commemoration of Anzac Day, 25 April 1944

Evelyn took up her Rockhampton appointment on 23 April 1944, just two days before Anzac Day. Along with other current war service men and women, I assume she participated in at least one of Rockhampton’s scheduled Anzac Day events that year. [18] This was at a time when the entire day was dedicated to honouring those who served or died in the armed or auxiliary forces (in particular, World War I).

The day began at 4:00 am with a dawn service at the War Memorial in the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens. The Right Rev Fortescue Ash, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Rockhampton, delivered the address.

At 10:00 am, ex-servicemen and current war service personnel (I’m not sure if this included service women) assembled at Anzac House, East and Archer streets, for a street parade and church services. As the parade passed the Rockhampton Post Office, Brigadier General W G Thompson and the Mayor, Alderman H Jeffries, took the salute. The parade proceeded along East, Denham, Campbell, William and Bolsover streets. Church services were held at St Joseph’s and St Paul’s cathedrals, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and the Rockhampton School of Arts. The latter hosted a combined nondenominational service arranged by the Rockhampton Ministers’ Association.

1945. St Paul's Anglican Cathedral, Rockhampton. Photo source: Proposch Family collection.
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1945. St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Rockhampton. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

In the afternoon, at 3:00 pm, service men and women (past and present) and members of war organizations, cadets, schools, scouts and lodges gathered at the corner of Ward and Agnes streets, for a street parade followed by a service at the Rockhampton War Memorial. Once again, Brigadier General W G Thompson and Alderman H Jeffries took the salute. The mayor presided at the service and Rev J Tainton and Brigadier C H Terracini addressed the crowd.

That night, from 8:00 pm, a national concert was held in the School of Arts, Bolsover Street. 

Anzac Day 1944 in review

The following report of the day’s events appeared in Rockhampton’s Morning Bulletin the next day [19]:

The undying flame kindled on Gallipoli 29 years ago grows with the years. In Rockhampton yesterday the commemoration of Anzac Day was observed with traditional simplicity and solemnity. The dawn service at the war memorial was followed, in the forenoon by a march of approximately 200 returned men through the streets to city churches, where commemorative services were conducted. At all churches large congregations attended. In the afternoon returned personnel from both wars, representatives of local bodies and auxiliaries and thousands of civilians gathered at the War Memorial in the Botanic Gardens. The day’s observances concluded with a well-attended national concert in the School of Arts.

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1944. WAAAF Cpl Mabs Davie pictured in front of the Rockhampton War Memorial. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

How Evelyn and her colleagues spent their days off

Rockhampton in 1944-45 was not a big city. Although the population of Rockhampton and district grew markedly during the war years, mainly because of the influx of US army troops, its civilian count was only about 35,000. The city’s facilities and local attractions were limited (when compared with today), so there were not a lot of places for service men and women to go on their days off.

Rockhampton Botanic Gardens

One place Evelyn and her colleagues visited often was the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens. The gardens were a popular place for an outing in 1944-45 and they remain so today. They have long been regarded as one of the best botanic gardens in regional Australia. In fact, the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens were added to the Queensland Heritage Register on 23 July 1999. [20]

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1944. Evelyn with two WAAAF colleagues during a visit to the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

The Rockhampton Botanic Gardens are extensive. They span approximately 30 hectares of a 70-hectare site on the western slopes of the Athelstane Range and are bordered by the Murray and Yeppen lagoons. These magnificent tropical gardens, laid out and planted between 1873 and the 1930s, contain many rare and mature botanical specimens. [21]

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Rockhampton Botanic Gardens today. Perhaps the same spot where Evelyn and her colleagues were photographed in 1944. Photo source: Judith Salecich.
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Rockhampton Botanic Gardens today. Photo source: Judith Salecich.

I’m sure Evelyn visited the gardens on a number of occasions, including one time when her beau, Lieutenant William (“Bill”) Proposch, 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF), came to Rockhampton to see her. (But more about that later.)

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1944, September. Lt Bill Proposch and ACW Evelyn Beaumont at the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1944. Lt Bill Proposch with WAAAF Mabs Davie and friend at the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens. Photo source: Private collection.

Emu Park

On at least one occasion, Evelyn and her colleagues visited Emu Park. I know, because Evelyn had lots of photographs to prove it.

For many years Emu Park had been a popular seaside resort for residents of Rockhampton and district. It was accessible by road and rail. From 1888 a railway line connected North Rockhampton and Emu Park, a distance of 29 miles (47 km). [22] By 1899, a line connected Rockhampton and North Rockhampton, making Emu Park even more accessible to would-be visitors.

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Reminders of the stations along the route from North Rockhampton to Emu Park (Emu Park Museum). Photo source: Judith Salecich.

From the outset, two trains ran between North Rockhampton and Emu Park each way daily, including Sundays, and three on Saturdays. Given that the WAAAF women didn’t own cars, it is more than likely they took the train to and from Emu Park. At Emu Park, Evelyn and her friends spent the day at Bell Park and nearby Fisherman’s Beach. Both were popular spots for day visitors.

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1944. Evelyn’s friend Bill Proposch after a swim at Fisherman’s Beach, Emu Park. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1944. Evelyn and her friends after a swim, in Bell Park, Emu Park. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

Bell Park, Emu Park

The area known as “Bell Park” was set aside in 1899 as a Botanic Gardens Reserve. However, it was only developed and opened to the public from the 1910s. In 1934, the reserve was renamed Bell Park, in recognition of the contribution of Mrs Emily Jane Bell and her late husband William Irving Bell in organising the opening up and maintenance of the park. Emu Park’s Bell Park spans 11 hectares and consists of large, open, grassed areas with some formally planted rows of hoop pines, particularly in the southern section, near the Hill Street entrance of the park. Bell Park was added to the Queensland Heritage Register on 29 April 2003. [23]

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Bell Park, Emu Park, today. Photo source: Judith Salecich.

In September 1944, Evelyn and some of her colleagues and Evelyn’s friend Bill Proposch spent a happy day at Emu Park. Bill had a few days’ leave and had travelled from North Queensland (where he was stationed at the time) to visit Evelyn.

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1944. Bill during an outing at Bell Park, Emu Park. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1944. Evelyn during an outing at Bell Park, Emu Park. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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1944. Evelyn and Bill on an outing at Bell Park, Emu Park. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

The engagement

Evelyn and Bill announced their engagement on 5 September 1944. But there was no engagement ring. As Evelyn told me, “It was wartime, and such things could not easily be purchased.”

The couple met at a dance in the Brisbane City Hall sometime in October or November 1943, when Evelyn was based in Brisbane and Bill was on leave in Brisbane. Clearly, they corresponded with each other over the next ten months or so. At the time, Bill was serving as an Education Officer, Headquarters (HQ) 17th Infantry Brigade, based at Atherton in North Queensland. He was undergoing training for his next overseas assignment.

Years later, I asked Evelyn if Bill visited her in Rockhampton more than once. She did not remember. However, she did recall Bill walking from the city to West Rockhampton to meet her. Having travelled to Rockhampton from North Queensland by train, he walked from the train station at Stanley Street to the airport at Canoona Road, a distance of about 3 miles (5 km). It would have taken him about an hour.

Evelyn told me that her parents came to Rockhampton to meet Bill before their engagement and (happily) they approved of the match.

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1944. Bill and Evelyn at the QCWA rotunda, The Reserve, Emu Park. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.
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The QCWA rotunda, Emu Park, today. Photo source: Judith Salecich.

One of many wartime matches

Evelyn was one of many WAAAF women who met their life partners while in service. By the end of 1944, the marriage rate among women in the WAAAF was steadily increasing. Once a woman married, she was released from her oath and the Service. Thus, recruiting continued throughout the war, in order to replace the steady flow of women who left the WAAAF to get married. [24]

Like Evelyn, many of the WAAAF women married men in the military services. In early 1945, at one headquarters, 60 per cent of the WAAAFs had married servicemen. By 1945, the number of women leaving the service to make homes with their husbands was about equal to that of new recruits. [25]

Recruitment campaigns at the time stated that “WAAAFs will make good wives” and “Any employer who gets an ex-WAAAF after the war will get a very efficient person”. Campaigners also emphasized the important work performed by the WAAAFs, their only regret being that none of the Australian airwomen had the opportunity to serve overseas [26]:

Any man who gets a WAAAF as a wife is very lucky, as WAAAFs have acquired a magnificent spirit of comradeship,” said Squadron-Leader Margery Cader, formerly staff officer, WAAAF at Eastern area.

“And any employer who gets an ex-WAAAF after the war will get a very efficient person,” said Wing Officer Lenora Tipping, who has replaced Squadron-Officer Cader at Eastern area.

Both officers are unanimous about the work done by members of the women’s branch of the RAAF, not only in interesting and spectacular jobs on air force stations, but in the less spectacular and monotonous jobs of cooking and messing. They are both regretful that WAAAFs have not been sent to more forward areas, particularly as members of the English WAAF, WRNS and ATS, American WAC, New Zealand WAC and Canadian WAF have been sent overseas from their home bases.

Given her impending marriage, Evelyn applied for a discharge from the WAAAF. Her application was approved and she was discharged on 2 March 1945, under the provisions of Air Force Regulation (AFR) 115 (t), “On compassionate grounds”.

The wedding

Evelyn Maud Beaumont (ex-WAAAF) married Lieutenant William Edwin (“Bill”) Proposch (2nd AIF) at St Paul’s Cathedral, Rockhampton, on 26 March 1945. Canon J E Dale conducted the ceremony, which commenced at 6:30 pm. Evelyn was the only daughter of Mr and Mrs D W Beaumont of “Woolein View”, Rannes (Queensland) and Bill was the second son of Mr and Mrs C W Proposch of Melbourne (Victoria).

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1945, 26 March. Evelyn and Bill following their wedding at St Paul’s Cathedral, Rockhampton. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

If there had not been a war, I’m sure these two people would never have met. Because of the war, they joined the WAAAF (Evelyn) and the 2nd AIF (Bill), and their paths crossed. Evelyn and Bill came from very different backgrounds and widely separated parts of Australia. Theirs was truly a coming together of “opposites”. I have written previously about my father’s war service in A Mother’s Love (and a little black diary) (October 24, 2015) and 1943, Wau, New Guinea: An amazing escape (November 6, 2017).

Their wedding was a small affair. My mother told me they had to restrict their guest list to about 30. It was still wartime and I don’t think the family could afford a large wedding. Given the wedding was held in Rockhampton, Bill’s parents and siblings did not attend. Only the couple’s closest friends and colleagues were invited.

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1945, 26 March. Telegram greetings from members of Evelyn’s WAAAF group. Document source: Proposch Family archives.

Read more about the wedding [27]:

The bride, who was given away by her father, wore ivory French Chantilly lace, over taffeta, made in the Old World style, with bell-shaped sleeves, and a heart-shaped neck. Her long cut tulle veil was lent by Mrs Maxwell, of Ogmore, and she carried a lucky horseshoe as a token of good luck from the bridegroom’s mother. She also carried a bouquet of frangipani and white roses, which was made by Mrs H Goree.

Cpl Mabs Davie, WAAAF, of Brisbane, was bridesmaid, and she chose powder blue brocade crepe cut on classical lines, with a shoulder-length veil of blue tulle, and long blue mittens. She carried a bouquet of roses. The duties of best man were carried out by Mr H D Beaumont, brother of the bride.

The reception was held at the Anzac Hall, where relatives and friends of the bride and bridegroom were received by the bride’s mother, who wore a frock of floral Grafton silk. She carried a bouquet of red roses. A two-tiered cake was beautifully decorated in the bride’s honour with aeroplanes, badges, and a pair of wings. Mrs Stiff contributed a piano solo.

The bridal couple left by car for Emu Park and later for Pialba, where the honeymoon will be spent. The bride travelled in a frock of Princess blue haven crepe with navy accessories.

After their honeymoon, which included a week at Ballina (northern New South Wales), Evelyn and Bill made their home in Sydney. Bill, an Education Officer in the Australian Army Education Service, took up his new appointment at the Australian Army’s 103rd General Hospital, Baulkham Hills. He served there from the end of April 1945 until his discharge in early December 1945.

Bill’s role as an Army Education Officer at the hospital was to assist the repatriation of servicemen who had experienced trauma and/or serious injury (including loss of limbs) during their overseas service. One of his tasks was to help the men find meaningful employment when they were ready to return to civilian life. I have written more about this in Why my father’s 1952 letter means so much to me (January 28, 2019).

Another engagement, another wedding

Evelyn’s WAAAF colleague and best friend at Rockhampton, Faye Oliphant, also met and married a serviceman. Faye announced her engagement to RAAF Corporal Kennedy Gordon (“Peter”) Hutchinson, of Hurstville (New South Wales), in June 1945. [28]

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1944. Faye Oliphant and Peter Hutchinson with Bill Proposch and one other, at the QCWA rotunda, The Reserve, Emu Park. Photo source: Proposch Family archives. .

Faye and Peter married at the Ann Street Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, on 25 January 1946. Unfortunately, Evelyn was unable to attend Faye’s wedding as she was living in Rockhampton at the time, 8½ months pregnant and her baby was due at any time.

Here is a brief newspaper report of the wedding [29]:

HUTCHINSON – OLIPHANT: Wearing a lace frock with a tulle veil, Aircraftwoman Marjorie Faith Oliphant (Sherwood) was married to Corp Kennedy G Hutchinson, RAAF (Hurstville, Sydney) on January 25, in the Ann Street Presbyterian Church. Miss N Oliphant was bridesmaid and Sergeant H Hindman, RAAF, was best man. The honeymoon is being spent at Binna Burra and Toowoomba.

The end of the war, 21 OBU and the WAAAF

After Bill’s discharge from the army, Evelyn and Bill returned to Rockhampton, where they settled and spent the remainder of their married life. When Bill died in 1999, they had been together for 54 years!

Evelyn’s colleague Faye Hutchinson (nee Oliphant) was discharged from the WAAAF on 14 February 1946. She and her husband Peter made their home at Kingsgrove, Sydney. There they raised their family, and spent many happy years together. Sadly, however, after 30 years or so, their marriage ended in divorce.

I do not know what became of Corporal Mabs Davie.

Evelyn and Faye kept in contact and remained friends for the rest of their lives. They met on a number of occasions over the years, when Bill and Evelyn visited Sydney and when Peter and Faye holidayed in Queensland.

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c. 1970. Evelyn and Bill with Faye during a visit to Sydney. Photo source: Proposch Family archives.

Following the end of World War II, military air traffic through Rockhampton gradually decreased and the RAAF’s 21 Operational Base Unit disbanded on 1 April 1946.

The WAAAF disbanded in December 1947. In 1950 given the success of the WAAAF during World War II, a new Australian women’s air force, the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) was formed. The WRAAF, in turn, disbanded in the early 1980s, when women were accepted into the RAAF. [30]

In 2005 Evelyn received a service medal 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. Evelyn was both surprised and 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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2005. Evelyn’s 60th Anniversary 1945-2005 service medal (both sides).

The medal was another tangible reminder of the years Evelyn spent in the WAAAF, arguably the most exciting, rich and educative chapter of her long life.

Evelyn died on 30 January 2011, aged 95.


  1. National Archives of Australia. Defence Service Records. Personal Record of Service – Airwomen. Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force. Evelyn Maud Beaumont. No. 100791.
  2. Australia at War (website). Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) in Australia during WW2.
  3. Ibid.
  4. ’21 Operational Base Unit’. In Australia. Royal Australian Air Force. Historical Section (1995). Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: a concise history. (Online).A.G.P.S., Canberra, A.C.T.
  5. Pacific Wrecks (website). Rockhampton Airfield (Connor Park).
  6. ’21 Operational Base Unit’. In Australia. Royal Australian Air Force. Historical Section (1995). Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: a concise history. (Online).A.G.P.S., Canberra, A.C.T.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Queensland Government. Queensland World War II Historic Places (website). Camp Rockhampton.
  9. Gary Cooper in Rockhampton. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Friday 17 December 1943, page 3.
  10. ’21 Operational Base Unit’. In Australia. Royal Australian Air Force. Historical Section (1995). Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: a concise history. (Online).A.G.P.S., Canberra, A.C.T.
  11. National Library of Australia. Trove (website). Australia. Royal Australian Air Force. Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force. (1941-1947).
  12. WAAAF WEEK IN ROCKHAMPTON. Opening on Friday. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Thursday 19 August 1943, page 5.
  13. Anzac Day Commemoration Committee (Queensland) (website). Investigating the reality – what women did and were paid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. ’21 Operational Base Unit’. In Australia. Royal Australian Air Force. Historical Section (1995). Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: a concise history. (Online).A.G.P.S., Canberra, A.C.T.
  16. Australia at War (website). History of “G” for George.
  17. Rockhampton rises to the occasion entertaining the crew of G for George. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Monday 13 November 1944, page 3.
  18. Arrangements for Anzac Day Commemorations. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Tuesday 18 April 1944, page 4.
  19. Commemoration of Anzac Day. Thousands Pay Homage at R’ton Services. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Wednesday 26 April 1944, page 5.
  20. Queensland Government. Queensland Heritage Register (website). Rockhampton War Memorial.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Queensland Government. Queensland Heritage Register (website). Rockhampton Botanic Gardens.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Wikipedia (website). North Rockhampton to Emu Park railway line.
  25. Queensland Government. Queensland Heritage Register (website). Bell Park.
  26. Marriage rate amongst WAAAFs increasing. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Thursday 9 November 1944, page 5.
  27. Ibid.
  28. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Wednesday 28 February 1945, page 2.
  29. Wedding Bells. Proposch-Beaumont. In Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Wednesday 28 March 1945, page 3.
  30. Domestic Notices. Engagements. In Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1926 – 1954), Sunday 10 June 1945, page 6.
  31. Wedding. Hutchinson-Oliphant. In Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), Monday 28 January 1946, page 6.
  32. Australian War Memorial (website). The Royal Australian Air Force: Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) and Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF).
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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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6 thoughts on “My mother’s years in the WAAAF (Part 2): Rockhampton”

  1. What a wonderful story and a lovely lady – how amazing she lived to such an age. You would be very proud of her. I guess your dad died earlier as your mum was living with you in Brisbane.

    • Dear Isabel. I’m so pleased you read Evelyn’ story and enjoyed it. Yes, she was a wonderful woman and mother, and you are right: I am very proud of her. She was a humble person, but warm and friendly. She had a great depth of courage and determination. My husband and I were very blessed to have her spend the last 8 years of her life with us. Thanks for your feedback. Love, Judy.

  2. Thank you, Judith, for posting and writing “From the heart”
    It is very important to document these events for future generations.
    I respect your writing & your work and am looking forward to reading more.
    My mother just died last month. She was 96.
    I am researching & writing our family history, but as she was born in Ukraine it is difficult. However, you give me inspiration
    I was born in Augsburg, so I took a particular delight in your description of your Easter in Bavaria.
    We came to Australia as DPs in 1950. I was a big 3.
    Sending you my regards & blessings

    • Dear Nicholas.
      Thanks so much for your very positive response to my story about my mother’s years in the WAAAF (Rockhampton). I’m so pleased you read it and found it helpful and encouraging. 
      I wish you well with your own writing and research. I can testify to the fact that it is well worth the time and effort! I understand that your task will be more difficult, given that your mother was born in Ukraine. How wonderful that she lived such a long life! Did she master the new language? I’m sure it wasn’t easy for your parents to start a new like here in Australia after World War II. 
      Did your family come to North Queensland? My husband’s family came to Australia in the 1950s, but later, as immigrants. They came to Fishery Falls, then moved to Freshwater (Cairns). My husband has written a couple of stories on my blog about his trip to Australia and his family. You may like to read them.
      I look forward to hearing from you again. Let me know how you are getting on with your writing and research. 
      Kind regards, Judy.

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