Spirit of service

Australian women’s contributions during World War II had a profound effect on the Allied war effort and paved the way for future generations of servicewomen.

RetireAustralia Australian War Memorial image

No longer confined to so-called traditional roles, women helped steer the ship at home while excelling in jobs usually filled exclusively by men.

The demands of war meant many took on skilled roles, while also dealing with family responsibilities, rationing, and worrying about male relatives and friends fighting overseas.

Female participation in the workforce increased by 31% between 1939 and 1943 as war production increased, although the majority still received less pay than their male counterparts.

Then, when it became clear that the conflict was going to demand more of the country than it expected, the federal government approved the inclusion of women in the forces in 1941.

Within two years there were over 46,000 women in active service roles.

Belrose Country Club’s Daphne Purss joined the Australian Women’s Army Service when she turned 18 and was posted to Engineering Headquarters in Brisbane.

“Joining the army was a succession of thrills,” she said.

“Getting the uniform, attending lectures, and learning march and drill – I enjoyed it all.”

After the war, discharged servicewomen had greater access to education and skilled employment, while the Australian armed forces have included a significant female presence since.

Glengowrie Village Manager Debbie Dean joined the Royal Australian Navy as a 17-year-old radio operator in 1973 and completed basic training in Melbourne before being posted to Darwin and Cairns.

Although she left the Navy after three years, Debbie said her experience had a lasting impact.

“Being in the service taught me self-control and discipline and I loved every minute of it,” she said.

Today, women make up almost 17% of the Australian Defence Force, as an ever-increasing number of servicewomen follow in the footsteps of those who went before.

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