In honour of ANZAC Day, this week at our assembly we reflected on those who have served Australia during times of conflict. Prefects Emma Jones and Sydney Peff co-presented a speech explaining the impact of the world wars on Australia and they outlined some of the war efforts in which Girls Grammar students and families participated.
Guest speaker Dorothy Mulder, who taught history at Girls Grammar for over 45 years, delivered an address that included much historical detail about some of the Old Girls who had served as nurses in World War I. We also heard Mr Rob Lang talk about the Rats of Tobruk and we welcomed Cr Drew Wickerson as a guest. It was a poignant assembly, providing an opportunity for the girls to reflect on sacrifices made by the generation of Australians before them.
Historical records show that Girls Grammar students committed to the war effort by donating bandages to the Army Medical Corps in 1914. Twenty years later, when World War II struck, the Girls Grammar community continued to assist Australia’s troops. Proceeds from the 1940 speech night, as well as partial funds from the School Fete and Sports Day in 1941, were dedicated to the war funds. Students and staff also participated in a range of war activities, including knitting for the Red Cross Society, adopting a Prisoner of War and devoting prize money to various war appeals.
There were many Girls Grammar graduates who answered the nation’s call to enlist, leaving their jobs, their families, their towns and even their country in service to their nation.
This year, I’d like to reflect on some of the Girls Grammar students who served in various capacities in World War I and World War II.
World War I
Helen (Nellie) Lawson (joined Girls Grammar in 1896)
After completing her nursing training at the Rockhampton Children’s Hospital, Nellie served some time in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) before embarking out of Melbourne as one of “Nurses for India Service”. She served at the British hospital in Bombay for nearly a year where she treated hundreds of Turkish prisoners of war and wounded British and Australian troops from the fighting in the Middle East. Nurse Lawson served there until posted to England just before the war ended in 1918.
During World War I, May North served in London hospitals as a ‘nurse/dispenser’ and, following the Armistice, went to France and for a year helped wounded soldiers, too weak to be shifted back to England at that time. For her work in these areas, May North was granted the prestigious Freedom of the City of London. On her return home, she worked as a dispenser at Rockhampton General Hospital and eventually opened her own “Chemistry business” at Eagle Junction, Brisbane.
World War II
Ruth Carter (Class of 1921)
Ruth Carter served in the Royal Australian Navy Cypher Office, based in the AMP Building in Brisbane. Amongst the noise and clatter of typewriters and voices, and in the midst of thick cigarette smoke, Ruth and her RANCY colleagues coded and decoded signals for the Navy. Their war service was to keep “the Fleet afloat and the Japanese from the door”. At this time, Brisbane was a key location for the war organisation. The river was filled with tons of shipping and the city was thick with war correspondents, soldiers and sailors.
Ruth described her service as “a wonderful experience, … packed full of excitement, work, interest and a deeper feeling of responsibility towards the country which in our humble way we believe we helped to defend”.
Maud Woolcock (attended Girls Grammar in the 1920s)
In World War II, Maud served in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) which started in 1941 and grew to over 17 000. The personnel of the WAAAF were drawn from all walks of life - girls who had never left home before, many fresh from school and only just eighteen, city girls and country girls.
Maud’s first posting was to Townsville and, like the other girls, she volunteered for the WAAAF to help the war effort, to release men for other tasks. Some joined hoping for adventure overseas, however, with the exception of a few isolated cases, WAAAF did not go further north than Cairns. They came in to work as wireless telegraphists, teleprinter operators, cypher assistants, drivers, clerks of all kinds, cooks, mess and canteen stewardesses, equipment and photographic assistants, fabric workers, flight mechanics, riggers, sick quarter attendants, accounting machine operators, meteorological assistants, operations room officers and to do intelligence work.
Most of the airwomen lived in barracks sleeping in big dormitories, often as many as thirty to a room. They queued up for meals and had to do all the cleaning and laundry for themselves as well as their ordinary work. Often the conditions were grim and the rules very strict but most of the women thought that the good comradeship and general fun were compensation enough.
Maud was glad of the opportunity of service, of the comradeship she enjoyed and the experience she shared.
Doris Broomfiled (Class of 1921)
Born in Rockhampton, Doris’s nursing career saw her in Perth when she enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) as a Lieutenant. She was promoted to the rank of Captain in April 1941.
Following her enlistment, she was posted overseas, travelling on the troopship Queen Elizabeth up the Suez Canal to serve at the 2/7 Australian General Hospital (AGH) at Rehovot, Israel and at Sister’s Clearing Station in GAZA. Upon her return journey to Australia, she experienced the Battle of Ceylon, an air attack on Easter Sunday, 5 April 1942. Doris watched through a porthole as the planes dived in and dropped their bombs, with one hitting a ship alongside the wharf.
Returning to Australia she was posted to Army Hospitals, 2/1 AGH, Western Australia, 116 AGH Charters Towers Queensland and 112 AGH Greenslopes Brisbane. During this time, she cared for many soldiers who had been returned home, including those who had been Prisoners of War in Singapore. The war ended in 1945 and Doris was discharged on 6 February 1946.
ANZAC Day 2021
This year, our Year 12s will attend the Dawn Service, where the seniors will wear the traditional yellow berets and hold candles. Our Head Girls will be delivering speeches at the Rats of Tobruk memorial service and our students will then participate in the Rockhampton ANZAC Day march. Kara Krehlik has emailed families with details and provides further information in her newsletter article.
Girls Grammar opened its doors to the first students on 19 April 1892 and every April we recognise this with a Foundation Day ceremony. Next week we will celebrate the school’s 129-year anniversary with our Foundation Day assembly, which will reflect on the growth and development of our school and its buildings. This is timely given all the renovations and capital improvements currently occurring at the school.
Girls have been asked to bring in gold coins next Wednesday to participate in our traditional gold coin collection.