75th Anniversary of the Formation of the Australian Women's Army Service


The Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) was a non-medical women's service established in Australia during the Second World War. Raised on 13 August 1941 to "release men from certain military duties for employment in fighting units" the service grew to over 20,000-strong and provided personnel to fill various roles including administration, driving, catering, signals and intelligence. Following the end of the Second World War, the service was demobilised and ceased to exist by 1947.

During the war, the members of the service were involved in a number of areas including, the Royal Australian Artillery, signals, intelligence and manning fixed defences across the continent. The issue of whether members of the Women's service should be able to serve overseas bubbled throughout the war. 

Australian War Memorial, ARTV00335

The American General MacArthur requested many times and the Australian Government finally relented in 1945. A total of 385 woman served in Lae, Papua New Guinea under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Margaret Spencer. It has also been discovered that unknown to Army authorities, two officers and three sergeants in Intelligence had earlier been moved from Brisbane to Dutch New Guinea in June 1944.

AWAS with Owen guns. Members of the Australian Women's Army Service being instructed in the use of the Owen gun at Belmont in Queensland. From left to right: Lance Bombardier Lorna Molloy, Gunner Francis Fowler, Gunner Pamela Holden, instructor Warrant Officer Gilbert Page. Ronald N. Keam 062586 Circa 1942

By 30 June 1947 all members of the AWAS had been demobilised. The Women's Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC) was formed in April 1951. At the time of its formation, many senior WRAAC personnel had previously served in the AWAS. By the late 1970s female soldiers had begun to be integrated into the regular army and in early 1985, the WRAAC was disbanded.

The legacy of the Australian Women's Army Service is the beginning of the process of integrating woman into the Australian Defence Forces.

AWAS arrived in Lae from Australia waiting for transport to the AWAS barracks at Butibum Road, New Guinea, 1945. Identified Personnel: Sergeant Myra Foenander, Trooper Amy Hay, Private L E White, Sergeant Nancie Dod, Sergeant Joyce Pollard, Corporal Freda Simmons, Corporal Thelma Northfield, Australian War Memorial, 091457.