International Women’s Day

Eileen Lochlin


One evening in September 1939, I sat in a milk bar with a group of young folk from Ashfield Methodist Church sipping milkshakes. We were the baby boomers after ‘WW1”, the kids of the “Great Depression years.”

Suddenly over the radio came the voice of Mr Menzies, the prime Minister. He said, ‘This day England has declared war on Germany, so that means Australia is now at war.’ There was dead silence, we were all shocked for a moment and then everyone went crazy. The boys raced into the streets, slapping each other on the shoulders, saying ‘see you in Paris’ or ‘see you in Berlin’ etc. The girls followed along. How silly and innocent we all were! Most of us had not travelled far from home. Even though our suburb was only 15 kms from the city of Sydney, a trip to the city was a rare treat in those days, so this was to be a big adventure.

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Next door to that milk bar where we had sat was the flat my parents had rented before I was born in the back bedroom upstairs, seventeen years earlier. Sadly, within a few years of that night, many of those young men had died or been wopunded in action at war and all our lives were changed forever.
Life has moved on and though we live in a very different world today, the threats are still with us. For the next two and a half years after that night, like those around me, I worked in an office, knitted socks and packed parcels to send to boys away from home, as we all joined in the war effort.

My special interest was to join a VAD group and do some nursing training, so I could work at Concord Hospital at weekends as a voluntary nurse. When I turned nineteen I wanted to enlist full time but my parents felt I was too young and would not sign for me to do so. I must wait until was twenty-one and could sign for myself.

By that time Australia was in real trouble and there was a recruitment drive in Martin Place in the city for WAAF who were urgently needed. So at lunch time I walked across the street and signed for myself to join the Air Force as a nurse, I thought. The powers that be thought otherwise and a few weeks later when I was called up, after an aptitude test I was sent to train in Radar & Air Defence.

After training in Melbourne, Adelaide and Newcastle, having passed my exams, I was posted to the operations room at Brisbane Fighter Section, later to Townsville and thence to Cairns. After fifteen months in the far north, I was granted ten days leave home to Sydney.

At 11 pm on 14 August, 1945 I woke from sleep to hear stones hitting the roof of our hut and the girls from the signal station coming home shouting, “The war is over!” Japan had surrendered. As my leave had already been arranged, I needed to be at the Catalina base in Cairns by 3 am to travel to Sydney by flying boat, with a planeload of American walking wounded troops, being sent to Concord Hospital in Sydney. We landed at Rose Bay about midday and after catching a tram and bus I was home with my parents, not at all where I wanted to be on that special day.

Story contributed by Eileen Lochlin.

A story from the Tapestry collection at the Jessie Street National Women's Library.