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This Day in History

Australian History

Wednesday, August 13, 1941. :   The Australian Women’s Army Service is formed, to enable more men to serve in fighting units.

     Prior to World War II, women in Australia were only permitted to serve in the defence forces within the Medical Services. The need for men to be released from military duties for utilisation within fighting units became increasingly obvious as the war progressed, and this could only be done if women were employed for certain tasks. Thus, on 13 August 1941, the War Cabinet of the Australian Government approved the establishment of the Australian Army Women’s Service, later known as the Australian Women’s Army Service.

Selection for the first 29 Officers was stringent and dependent on interviews in each of the states. Only women who had shown leadership within their own profession or in the form of community service were considered. These women received training at the first Officer's Training School, held in Victoria through November and December 1941. Recruitment of other workers then followed. Initially, just a small number of women between the ages of 18 and 45 were to be employed as clerks, typists, cooks and motor transport drivers. However, the entry of Japan into the war changed that. By the end of 1942, 12,000 women had been recruited and trained, and their duties were far-ranging, from butchers to Cipher clerks. Motor transport drivers’ duties included forming military convoys, and driving cars, ambulances, trucks up to 3 tons, jeeps, floating jeeps, Bren Gun Carriers and amphibious vehicles.

Special approval was granted by the War Cabinet in 1945 for 500 women in the AWAS to serve outside Australia. A contingent was posted to Lae, New Guinea, and a smaller group sent to Hollandia. In June 1946, an Officer, 3 NCOs, and one Private AWAS were included in the Army quota of 160 personnel in the Victory March contingent in London.

In all, by the time the war ended in 1945, 24 026 women had served in the Australian Women’s Army Service. The Australian Women’s Army Service was disbanded in June 1947.

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