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Women In Service

 After World War 1 and before World War 11, public pre-conceptions about women only being useful in domestic roles, continued to prevail. But despite this view there were many different ways women could – and did – serve. In World War I, Australian recruitment propaganda had emphasised loyalty to Britain as a reason to fight. In World War II, emphasis shifted to serving in the defence of Australia itself. Recruits were told that by joining Australia’s armed forces, they would be defending their homes and families.

AWAS personnel operating Anti aircraft height and range finder at North Williamstown 1944

AWAS personnel operating Anti-aircraft height and range finder at North Williamstown, 1944. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

In the Australian Army Nursing Service alone 3,477 servicewomen enlisted for service in World War II. Of these seventy-one never returned, losing their lives on active service overseas.

Vivian Bullwinkle






South Australian nurse Vivian Bullwinkle (pictured left) was sole survivor of the massacre of 32 Australian nurses on Bangka Island by Japanese forces of which Bullwinkle subsequently became a Prisoner of War.





 At least 26 women served in the Australian Army Medical Corp, in administrative roles. Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD) like the ‘Bluebirds’ continued to operate from World War I. Many chose to join the Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service, established in 1940 and the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (AAMWS) formed in December 1942, with members going on to serve in the Korean War, Malayan Emergency and Vietnam War.

Major Lady Winifred MacKenzie

Soon after World War II began, it was announced that women doctors would be accepted into the Australian defence forces. The first of these was Dr Winifred MacKenzie, whose commission in the Australian Army Medical Corps was noted in the press.

Major Lady Winifred MacKenzie in her office at Victoria Barracks 15 November 1944

Major Lady Winifred MacKenzie in her office at Victoria Barracks 15 November 1944


Morotai 1945 04 18 Australian Army Medical Womens Service Australian Army Nursing Service

Morotai. 1945-04-18. Australian Army Medical Women's Service, Australian Army Nursing Service