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Betty Davies and Helen Littlejohn - 27th April 2009

Signals Operators, Australian Women’s Army Service

Betty Davies and Helen Littlejohn were signals operators in the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) during World War II and participated in the 2009 AFL Anzac Day Veterans’ Parade at the MCG in front of 92,000 people.

AWAS was established in August 1941 with the realisation that the previous prohibition on women in the army meant that the trade and professional skills of women were not available for the war effort. The employment of women volunteers released men from duties in artillery, engineers, survey, signals, infantry, intelligence, supply & transport, salvage, ordnance, pay, veterinary, postal, provost, printing & stationary, canteens, amenities, education, schools including the Royal Military College, Australian Staff College & training units.

Initially the Army only envisaged that women would be employed as clerks, typists, cooks and motor transport drivers, and in small numbers, however, the demand grew very quickly and by the end of 1942, 12,000 recruits had been enlisted and trained.
AWAS worked as
• drivers of cars, trucks, jeeps, bren gun carriers, amphibious vehicles and ambulances
• maintenance mechanics on all the vehicles
• maintenance staff in watercraft workshops and in AEME repair shops
• signals operators
• broadcasting unit, photographic unit and entertainment unit staff
• managers of A/A guns and searchlights
• mess and kitchen staff including several butchers
• interpreters.

During the period 1941 to 1945, 24,026 women enlisted in the AWAS, with the maximum strength reaching 20,051 in January 1944. One woman reached the position of Colonel and four became Lt Colonels.

Women were paid two thirds of the wage paid to men.
“The first Officer's Training School was held in Victoria in November-December 1941. During this time Japan entered the war and the need for womanpower in the Army was accentuated, recruiting and training commenced as soon as AWAS Officers returned to their areas. The types of recruits were quite splendid, alert, responsible and invariably inspired to volunteer by strong personal motives.”

In 1945 the War Cabinet gave special approval for 500 AWAS to serve outside Australia. These members were posted to HQ 1st Aust. Army in New Guinea. 350 women were selected and sailed on the MV Duntroon in May 1945. provides information on AWAS and shows photographs and stories of the women who were sent to Lae.

Created: 23/07/2009 | Last Updated: 27/07/2009 | Click here to View File