Deniliquin’s Lorna O’Brien singed up for the Australian Women’s Army Service in 1942.ZOE MCMAUGH April 25, 2014 3:50am
Deniliquin’s Lorna O’Brien says she was just doing her duty when she signed up to serve during World War II.
With her brother Ross Baker joining the army before her, Lorna was 18 when she signed up for the Australian Women’s Army Service in 1942.
After weeks of training at Ingleburn in Sydney, not far from her home town of Penrith, Lorna was assigned to the signals office — the communication centre to the front line.
After three years at Australian bases, her duties would take her to New Guinea where she lived in a barbed wire clad camp protected by guards.
But the 90 year-old still maintains she ‘‘didn’t do much’’ during the war.
‘‘I was still at school when the war broke out,’’ she said.
‘‘I left school when I was 16 and was working as a governess on a property, and I joined the AWAS in July 1942.
‘‘Everyone was joining up and I felt I wanted to do something too.
‘‘I had one brother in the army, Ross, who was a light horseman before the war and was in the armoured troops.
‘‘In the signals office, we took the place of the men so they could go off and fight.
‘‘I eventually put in to go north (from Sydney). I was based in Townsville for a few months before going to Charters Towers.
‘‘I had been there for a while when they asked for volunteers to go to New Guinea.’’
Lorna said she didn’t expect to have been chosen to go to New Guinea, and was surprised when she did.
Those heading overseas had to be 21 and they had to volunteer, and Lorna was only 20 when she applied.
With departure not until May 7, 1945, just under three weeks after her 21st birthday, she was selected to go.
Lorna cannot remember how long she spent on the warship between Brisbane and Lae, in New Guinea, but said being in the new country was ‘‘an experience’’.
With the AWAS taking the place of the army as they moved the fighting front forward, Lorna said she did not see any of the war action.
The toughest part, she said, was the information the AWAS members had to keep from their loved ones.
‘‘We were there when the war ended in the September, but we stayed on until early February,’’ she said.
‘‘We weren’t allowed to tell our parents where we were or anything about the war. If there was anything in our letters, they were censored before they were sent.
‘‘We worked on shifts day and night, eight hours shifts, and got four days off after each block of work.
‘‘We were barb-wired in and there was always a guard on the gate.
‘‘The signals office was a bit down the road and we used to go there by army truck.
‘‘I started on the switch and then became a clerk in the signals office.’’
When not working, Lorna said she and the other AWAS members would go swimming and enjoy other leisure activities.
‘‘We used to have dances and open air pictures, even though it rained every day we were there.
‘‘We would wrap our ground sheets around us – we never went anywhere without them.
‘‘We used to go across in a boat to a nearby island beach to swim for the day on our days off.’’
After arriving home from the war, Lorna put her new found skills to good use.
She went to the post office in Penrith where she worked as a telephonist at the telephone exchange.
Lorna and her husband Harry, a friend of her younger brother Bruce, moved to Deniliquin early in their marriage.
Originally only planning to stay for a short time, they fell in love with Deniliquin and never left.
Coca-Cola Amatil has confirmed it will be pressing on with its $100 million redevelopment of SPC Ardmona.
Beautiful weather greeted Tungamah residents for the 18th running of the Tungamah Lions Ten Thousand on Sunday.
When Keith and Marion Grumley and their growing family moved to Tatura on January 18, 1968, little did they know that it would be the start of a long and lasting connection to the town.
A snake was spotted this afternoon at the fish and chip shop.
Rochester Rotary Club has celebrated its 50th birthday in style.
Sorting future of Campaspe pools
A theatre production with a difference is coming to Seymour.
Local athletes will go head-to-head with some of the best competitors from around the world in swimming and athletics in December.
District residents and visitors will be able to enjoy some of the region’s most beautiful private gardens on Sunday.
The 116th annual Cobram Show went off with a bang at the weekend, drawing in crowds from far and wide for two days of fun.
Tomorrow is a Total Fire Ban day in Deniliquin, meaning no fires can be lit in the open and all fire permits are suspended.
Fifty new full-time jobs will be created at Tatura with a multimillion-dollar expansion of the abattoirs expected to be announced today.
Remembering Australian political giant Gough Whitlam who once called on Benalla police to stop then Treasurer Frank Crean on his journey up the Hume to phone the PM.
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